FORD, M-B, HONDA LIKE GRAND PRIX AT INDY
by Larry Roberts
December 12, 1998
By now the entire motorsports community knows that Formula One (F-1) Grand Prix racing will return to the U.S. in 2000 after an absence of almost a decade. Its venue for that year will be a revised track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and I'm sure that no one is happier about its return than the motorsports publicity departments of Ford, Mercedes- Benz and Honda. These three automaking giants have spent many millions of dollars participating in F-1 over the years and must have been frustrated by the fact that the most sophisticated and technologically- advanced form of auto competition had no representation in the most car-conscious nation in the world.
But don't confuse the Memorial Day Pep Boys Indy 500 with the U.S. Grand Prix of 2000. The only things that the two races will share is the main straight portion of the track and the seating areas for spectators. The Pep Boys Indy 500 as it is currently run, is a "spec" race for 33 single-seaters that (all save two) use modified 4.0-liter Oldsmobile Aurora V8 passenger car engines. Formula One is almost unrestricted in its use of automotive technology and its cars carry purpose-designed- and-built 3.0 liter engines of up 12 cylinders.
To further differentiate the two events, the Indy 500 for 2000 will be run on the track's 2.0-mile oval in a counter-clockwise direction (as it has been since 1911) while the Formula One event will be run in a highly modified clockwise direction. A newly devised section of the track will require F-1 drivers to make a hard right turn at the end of the main straightaway and race through a circuitous area that includes an additional eight right turns and four more to the left. The cars will then return to the main portion of the oval.
Every international Formula One race has incredible world-wide TV coverage and this exposure is the reason that Ford, Mercedes, Honda and, in some years, Renault, participate in Grand prix racing to the extent that they do. Ford, being the only U.S.-based automaker involved in F-1, is particularly happy about its reintroduction to this country and that it's to be run on a prestigious, established track. Dan Davis of Ford's Special Vehicle Operations is quoted as saying "Unlike some of the temporary F-1 circuits that have come and gone in the U.S., the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a place that Americans young and old know about, and care about." Davis was referring to U.S Grand Prix races of recent times that have been held on such diverse tracks as the streets of Phoenix and a casino parking lot in Las Vegas.
Since the halcyon days of the '50s and '60s when the locations of Formula One races were almost chiseled in stone, the events today are regularly awarded to various countries that can come up with the most attractive advertising packages. For 1999, Grand Prix races are scheduled for China and Malaysia, and the choices are based on those countries' accessibility to promotional monetary considerations.
At one time, the Indy 500 was listed as the U.S. Grand Prix. Its drivers earned points towards the world championship and Indy cars actually conformed to the then-current "formula" for car weight, displacement, fuel requirements, etc. But as time went by and American racing became more and more isolated from the customs and interests of the rest of the world, our national race was dropped from the Grand Prix calender and went its own way.
But we're back on line once more and time will tell if the U.S. will go on to play a bigger and more prestigious role in Formula One racing. As it is, no American drivers or home-grown teams qualify to be part of it. But then, neither do most of the other countries that play host to Grand Prix races.
Hopefully sometime in the future, this will change and we'll see a reoccurrence of the days when a team like Dan Gurney's Ford-powered All-American Eagles will see an international winner's circle again.