Bob McMurray: Two great races, one weekend
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HOLDING THE INDY AND MONACO GP AT THE SAME TIME IS A BIT SILLY
So the two biggest, most glamorous, extravagant, over-the-top annual extravaganzas in single-seater motor racing are done for another year.
In the case of the Indy 500 it is done for another 100 years as it is doubtful that the maximum capacity crowd, estimated at close to 400,000 people, can be repeated when it goes back to being an “ordinary” Indy 500, if there is such a thing.
The Speedway people and the IndyCar people are hoping the momentum of the event will increase crowds at all the other events over the season, and the series really does need that to happen.
So why are these two “jewels in the crown”, the Monaco F1 GP and Indy 500, both of which carry huge worldwide prestige for the winner, held over the same weekend?
Would it not be better for there to be a week, maybe two, between them?
It surely would have the effect of bringing more glamour in the form of personalities, exposure, more corporate money, more of well everything, to each event.
You never know, it may even resurrect the days of European drivers entering the 500. Perhaps not Formula 1 drivers, but some of those in GP2, GP3 may try the IndyCars or even the Indy Lights.
Traditionally (there is that word again, you just cannot escape it when it comes to “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing”) the Indy 500 has been held on Memorial Day, May 30, or around that date.
In fact all the way from the first races in 1910 up until 1970 the race was held on that date regardless of the day of the week it was — though never on a Sunday.
That day was studiously avoided and you understand that a little better when you see the number of churches in this part of the US. Religion has a strong hold here.
But in 1971 and 1972 the race was held on the Saturday and in 1974, and ever since, Sunday has been race day.
While all this was going on, the Monaco Formula 1 race was always held over Ascension Day weekend.
With its DNA dating from 1929, the current Grand Prix track is still very similar in layout to the original.
Anybody who has been to Monaco will understand that there is very little option in terms of roads to be used as the track squeezes itself on to the roads that basically follow the harbour coastline except for the parts up, down and around the casino area.
Over the past several years the date was changed to be the last weekend in May — co-incidentally the same weekend as Indy — and that is where it remains.
It is said by some that this date change was deliberately done at the instigation of Bernie Ecclestone; that could be a scurrilous rumour — or not.
The effect of course is that the two races are now polarised in terms of who goes to one or the other. Each race has its own mass appeal. Monaco is at the “Gucci” end of the scale, where old money mixes with the nouveau riche and the “flash-brash” “I am on a boat” crowd.
The Indy 500 caters to the loud race fans who just want to see entertainment, be a part of an event and have fun, in their characteristically American way, while that event is going on, be that at the race or the multitude of music concerts that go on all week in the track infield area after the cars have completed their track time.
Their huge coolers full of beer and wine, and others full of snacks and picnic stuff would make an Eden Park security guard weep, but at the Speedway it is a case of “bring them in and have a nice day”.
Security is tight, with bag searches going on, but that is reflective of the world today, and is done by the IMS security people in a pleasant and friendly way.
The Indy 500 event plays heavily on the emotions, especially when it comes to Memorial Day, a day when America remembers those who have died while serving in the country’s armed forces, whereas in Formula 1, well, it seems they simply couldn’t care.
The razzamatazz, the hoopla, the promotion and best of all the racing in the 500 excites the soul and plays to the market — and does so very successfully.
Perhaps that is just the difference between the “American Way” and the “European Way”.
It may be heresy to say it, but Formula 1 as a sport has to grab the entertainment thistle with both hands if it wants to prosper, and really should take a little more than a leaf out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s book of How To Do It.