By Joe Buckles
TERRE HAUTE — The ever-changing ways at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have taken on yet another surprising twist.
The mecca of oval track racing has once again opened its gates to road racing.
First it was Formula One, then MotoGP for the motorcycles, and now American sports car racing may have found a new home at IMS.
The drivers and cars of the Grand Am series made their test debut at at the Speedway last week. Five Daytona Prototypes and four GT touring cars conducted a pair of two-hour test sessions.
The tests were staged before a surprisingly strong spectator turnout that lined the fences at designated viewing locations.
While Speedway officials were reluctant to make any solid comittments regarding a possible date for the sports cars, the organization made the best of its invite and voiced optimism they would get the chance to race at IMS in the not-too-distant future.
If the Grand Am series would land a date, the show would likely be an endurance type event, the trademark of the NASCAR-backed series.
While the names of the Grand Am series are virtual unknown outside of road racing, the circuit frequently lures drivers from other series.
Several were on hand taking their turns behind the wheel on the F1 layout. Buddy Rice and Ed Carpenter joined former Indy car driver Scott Pruett posting laps.
Pruett, a front runner in the GA, is no stranger to IMS, having competed in four Indy 500s. He welcomes a chance to return to Indy.
“I’ve been fortunate to have run on the oval in the Indy cars and NASCAR. To come back here in a sports car is awesome,” Pruett said just prior to taking to the 2.534-mile, 13-turn road course.
“The reality is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the racing capital of the world. I think we can come in here offer the fans the ultimate in sports car racing,” Pruett said.
“We could do a 12 hour race. Start at 12 and end at 12. When the lights come on night it offers a whole new element to racing. It’s incredibly exciting,” offered Pruett.
Retired 500 veteran Scott Goodyear was more than a casual observer. He too welcomes sports cars to Indy. He would like to see an 18-hour event, something unheard of.
“The Speedway is about something new. Something different. Yes, there are probably a lot of questions but probably a lot of answers if they want to sit down and talk about it. If there is interest on both sides,” Goodyear said.
He would like to see a festival-type atmosphere much like that at LeMans and Daytona.
“Make it as much for the fans as the racers,” added Goodyear. “Have the ferris wheels, infield camping. Something they’ve never had before. A 24-hour event would give European drivers who have always wanted to run the Speedway a chance to do so.”
Two of the most prominent names on the area road racing scene — David Hunt of Terre Haute and Glenn Andrew of Farmersburg — were among the many curious onlookers last Thursday at Indy.
Hunt was representing his Apex Racing Team, following up some promising leads in his Formula BMW ventures. The former midget racer has garnered the reputation as being one of the brightest new voices in American road racing.
Hunt is of the opinion that the look of racing is facing major changes at all levels. He feels a sports-car endurance race at Indianapolis would be a big plus for racing.
“I think its great the Speedway is opening their minds to what can happen here in the future. It’s a new day.” expressed Hunt.
“To have an endurance race here goes back to the spirit of the Speedway. This place has always been about innovation and technology. A proving ground for the automotive world.”
“To have an endurance race here would be more than a two and half-three hour NASCAR race. It would be more of an event where the manufacturers would want to be involved to make sure their cars would last eight-10 or 12 hours. That approach gets back to the spin of what the Speedway is all about.”
Hunt doesn’t rule out the possibility that his Apex Racing Team could be part of an endurance race at the Speedway. After preparing, racing and winning at road circuits nationally and internationally he feels his operation is prepared to branch out.
“After five years in the business, APEX Racing has a great track record. We have the people that at this point can do any type of racing we choose. We’re in a service industry.”
“We can do Daytona Protoypes, we can go IndyCar racing. It really depends on the business climate what ever our clients and sponsors want to go. We’ve built a team that can go anywhere in motorsports.”
The happenings of the day may have rekindled Andrew’s days of racing sports cars. The former North Central High School basketball coach competed and won in selected Sports Car Club of America events in the past. He liked what he saw at Indianapolis last week.
“You had to be impressed with the quality of cars. The idea of starting in the daylight and finishing in the dark would make for some exciting racing,” Andrew said.
“Once fans see this type of racing they will be impressed. The sports car fan is different than the oval. In road racing the cars are the stars not the drivers.”
At the end of the day, as many questions existed as answers regarding the future of sports car racing at the Speedway. The Grand Am teams passed their audition with flying colors.
There is no question on whether Grand Am teams want to be at Indy or if there is a fan element that would like to see them there. The big question: Is there enough support to win over the decision makers at 16th Street and Georgetown Road?
Change has been the word at IMS in 2009 so who knows what 2010 might hold.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.