Why you should watch the Indy 500 this weekend

29th May 2021, 6:56am
5 min read
Why you should watch the Indy 500 this weekend
Image credit: IndyCar.com Media
  • Iconic Indy 500 to be shown on Sky Sports F1 this Sunday
  • 33 drivers competing at speeds of 230mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • One of the most famous races in the world comes with a $1.5 million prize for the winner

One of the world’s greatest motorsport events takes place this Sunday, the Indy 500, featuring a packed grid of IndyCar racers competing for one of the biggest prizes in racing.

Featuring 33 drivers racing at speeds in excess of 230mph, the Indy 500 is to the USA what Monaco is to Formula One fans, with a $1.5 million pot for the winner awaiting.

Unlike Monaco though, this is an epic celebration of speed, with the cars completing a 2.5 mile lap of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in under 40 seconds, at an average of over 230mph. The Monaco average speed is just over 100mph…

The prestige of the event, self-styled as ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ means it’s included in the Triple Crown of motorsport, which also encompasses the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24 Hours. Only one man has won all three events; the legendary Graham Hill.

As the name suggests, this isn’t held at a standard circuit with multiple corners, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an oval with just four (banked) corners, meaning it’s pretty much full speed the whole way.

The lack of braking (or corners) doesn’t detract from the challenge, the difference between success and failure is measured in fractions of miles per hour, and the racing is frequently held in mass slipstreaming battles, as cars look to slip in behind the leader to save on fuel and take advantage of the tow.

The cars are similar in appearance to F1 cars, though make use of the ‘Aeroscreen’ rather than the F1 halo protection system, but other than that, share the same open wheel silhouette. Both series use V6 turbocharged engines; F1 a 1.6 litre unit and IndyCar a 2.2 litre, but differ in that IndyCar machines are all the same base vehicle supplied by Dallara, with a choice of two different engine providers, while each F1 team is obliged to build their own cars to their individual design.

With such high speeds comes high risk. There’s no F1-style run off areas here; the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is lined with concrete walls, meaning the slightest mistake can often end up in a spectacular accident, though thankfully the walls have been improved in recent years with the addition of the SAFER barrier, which helps to absorb any heavy impact and protects the driver.

The beauty of the Indy 500 is that anyone on the grid, with the right mix of circumstance, strategy, and perhaps a little luck, can win the race, with several recent winners coming from outside the top-10 on the starting grid.

That’s not to detract from the driver quality on offer. Many are not household names in Europe, but put any of these drivers in an F1 car, and they’d certainly not disgrace themselves. Indeed several are definitely lost talents that could and perhaps should have made their way to F1; Scott Dixon for example is a six time champion, and regarded as a driver that would have excelled in F1.

Seven of this year’s grid have actually raced in F1, including Juan Pablo Montoya, a seven time race winner in F1 and a double winner of the 500, and a man who could have been world champion in 2003.

The race itself is a three hour epic, with 200 laps of the 2.5 mile circuit bringing it up to the 500 mile mark, hence the title Indy 500. That means concentration is a high premium, especially at these speeds, and why the race tends to throw up surprises and drama by the bucket load.

The Speedway will be limited to 40% capacity due to the Covid-19 restrictions, which will mean ‘only’ 135,000 fans will be present on race day.

As for who will be drinking the celebratory milk in Victory Lane at the end of this year’s contest, that’s anyone’s call. 2008 winner Dixon is this year’s pole man, but as we said earlier, it’s anyone’s race.

The 2021 Indy 500 will be available to UK viewers on Sky Sports F1, with the race due to start at 4pm UK time on Sunday (30 May).

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Written by Richard Randle

Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.