Monday , 23 October 2017
Indy 500 May 18th, 2016 ©2016 Walt Kuhn

Oval Racing – More than just Turning Left

Qualifying for one of the most prestigious events on the motor racing calendar takes place this weekend. The Indianapolis 500 qualifying time trials take place on Saturday and on Sunday ahead of the great race on May 29th. Whilst many around the world will watch the event, some shun oval racing altogether because of the reputation it has for being nothing but a crash fest or not requiring much skill. Both of those simply are not true though. Sure, oval racing is not for everybody, but you cannot knock something until you’ve tried it, and what better way to try oval racing than by watching the 100th running of the most famous oval race of them all – the Indianapolis 500.

The 500 is a gruelling test, which over the years has attracted drivers from across the Formula One scene – Alberto Ascari, Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and others have taken the famous race on, with varying results. At over two and a half hours as a minimum, it is longer in terms of time than a F1 race, and at more than 2.5 times the distance. With no power steering in the modern IndyCar and insane levels of downforce, it remains one of the most physical races on the racing calendar.

The ideology that the 500 does not require much skill is quite frankly a false one. Sure, it does require some luck, with timing of pit stops, sometimes having to avoid debris and simply hoping that you don’t get taken out all being factors in oval racing, but ultimately a lot of skill is required – albeit a different set to what you may see on a road course. Slipstreaming is an art, as well as conserving fuel, and making the right decisions when it comes to changing the angle of the front wing at the pit stops can all determine whether you get the coveted bottle of milk, or whether you end up in the wall.

That is the next attraction of the famous race – it is very, very dangerous. These cars are by no means slow; they will average over 220mph across the lap on their own, hit 240 at the end of the straightaways and on the edge of each turn is not a run-off as you see on most corners in Formula One, but a wall. Technically speaking, it is a SAFER barrier, which will absorb much of an impact should you crash, but some big hits still definitely occur at the speedway, with James Hinchcliffe’s dramatic suspension failure last year being the most dramatic in the last couple of years. Sure, some oval races can be absolute messes and just simply silly – it is why I cannot bear to watch NASCAR, but that is not so much the case in IndyCar.

Away from the crashes, the racing is nothing short of exceptional. There will be overtaking. There will be passes for the lead. There is no DRS. There is drama. It is every man (and woman) for themselves on race day in one of the fastest metaphorical games of high-speed chess you will ever witness. Winning the 500 is difficult, and no man has ever done so more than four times in his career. It is hypothesised that winning the race is more difficult than winning the IndyCar championship itself.

History will be made on May 29th, the same day as the Monaco Grand Prix, as we find out who will win the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It is one of the ultimate tests of man, team and machine along with Monaco and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and you should definitely at least try to watch it.

About Craig Woollard

Craig Woollard is an avid motor racing fan and freelance journalist and writer. A mathematics graduate from the University of Essex in 2013, Woollard has ambitions to work within motor racing. He is a member of Autosport's academy programme. In his spare time, he listens to music, sim races, wears hats and drinks cranberry juice.

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