INDIANAPOLIS, September 15, 2003
It is sad commentary when the greatest drivers in the world cannot sell sufficient tickets for the fourth annual United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A recent half-page advertisement in USA Today offered readers the opportunity to "experience Formula One at Indianapolis," the United States' temple of speed that has been part of the World Championship on and off for years. IMS has been running television ads and papers local to the "Crossroads of America" have lures similar to those in USA Today.
In its latest incarnation Formula One at the Brickyard offers a lot. Even the casual fan with a ticket in hand can see the cars up close in their garages on the Thursday before the race, an offering non-existent in other parts of the world where the series competes.
It isn't even necessary to spend a King'sor Queen'sransom to get a good view as the natural infield terrain lends itself to walkabouts and inspection. Wonder why these guys get their money? Watch them wrestle cars in the confines of IMS. Walk out to the berms and just see it. Single car qualifying shoot be a hoot in the infield.
This is the second time Indianapolis has been part of the World Championship, as the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race took part in F1 from the start of the modern era in 1950 until it was bounced off the calendar in 1961. The current Indy era began in 2000, after Formula One had been absent from these shores since a tragically silly 3-race era on Phoenix, AZ streets ended in 1991.
Certainly, the United States has had well and good representation in FIA Formula One. With drivers and venues, the USA has had success. But not since Michael Andretti's star-crossed 1993 season has an American had the opportunity to compete in F1. Is that part of the problem?
Traveling to varied US venues in the past 53 years, F1 has endured the bogs of Watkins Glen, NY and produced stirring finishes like Mario Andretti's first foray with a Lotus/Ford package that evolved to give the adopted American his 1978 World Championship.
The Long Beach Grand Prix, which became Monaco West to the F1 troops reigned from 1976 to 1983 until Bernie Ecclestone's arrogance let it go to CART. Mario's win there in 1977 built the Long Beach race to cult status. The teams and drivers loved it, but Bernie wanted more money.
Goodbye Long Beach; hello Detroit, hello Dallas, hello Phoenix (stop laughing) and no Formula One in the States until Tony George finally took the chance and spent the money to bring Bernie and his circus back here.
There have been three pretty good races at Indianapolis, a challenging circuit and an eye-opener to anyone who hasn't seen either the 2.5-mile oval or the 2.605-mile Grand Prix road circuit. There is no one in the Formula One family who is not impressed with the Speedway's renovated facilities and with the circuit itself.
This year there are plenty of teams and drivers for American fans to feel empathy with. We've got three former Champ Car titleholders on the grid in Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve and Cristiano da Matta.
Montoya couldjust mightwalk away with his own F1 title in the BMW Williams FW25 did in 1997, also driving for Frank Williams.
Juan Pablo has one advantage over the balance of the 20-car/driver field in that he had the opportunity to re-acclimate himself to the Speedway's Grand Prix course this June while Tradin' Paint with NASCAR star Jeff Gordon. Montoya, of course, is the 2000 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner and hopes to be first to win both the USGP and Indy 500 at the Brickyard.
Cristiano da Matta has been to Indianapolis Motor Speedway only once, believe it or not. He came to the Speedway last year for Pole Day. He's never driven the oval, never driven the road course, never even taken the obligatory bus tour at 35mph. That will change in a couple of weeks as CART's reigning champion comes back to the soil where he lived for six years, this time driving a Toyota-powered F1 missile.
Strangely, da Matta hasn't yet figured the allure of the Brickyard. Yet. It'll be interesting to see just how long it takes for the 2002 Champ Car title winner to figure out what a special place this is.
Villeneuve is not in the title hunt, nor has he been since joining BAR/Honda. The Canadian's job opportunities for the 2004 season are dwindling; could this be a final chance to see him drive?
For the first time in such a long while, the title will go down to the final race and this is the first time since 1986 there are three drivers competing for the F1 title. The probability of seeing a real race this timeunlike the fabricated Ferrari victory for Rubens Barrichello last falland a three-man drivers' contest should be enticement enough.
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher looks for his sixth driving title and, after winning at Monza this past weekend, has 82 points. Montoya is three back with 79 (and his car maker Williams leads the Constructors' battle over Ferrari 141-137), while West McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen has 75 points.
It's time for all the people who ought to be in those grandstands to point their browsers to www.usgpindy.com or www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com and discover the allure of the greatest racing cars and drivers in the world. Too many good seats remain to pass up. There's no better value in the Formula One universe than seats at Indianapolis Motor speedway for the United States Grand Prix. Don't just watch it. Be there.