Thursday, May 15, 2014

Indy 500: Rain, Rain, Go Away

Rain gave way to cool, windy gray skies Wednesday at IMS
Wednesday May 14th was a perfect example of why I love the Indy 500 and living in Indianapolis during the month of May. Spring weather in central Indiana is notoriously unpredictable and the last few days have been all of that and more. Last weekend for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the first day of practice for the 500, it was in the 80's with lots of sunshine. Yesterday the forecast was for rain the entire day with falling temperatures, which was mostly correct, and when I got up yesterday morning, I thought sure the whole day would be a washout. By 3:00 o'clock I could see that the parking lots were drying at the school where I teach so I kept checking the weather radar, Twitter and the Speedway's "garage cam" hoping that it might clear up enough for some track activity once I was done with classes at 4:00. Sure enough, the weather "window" opened and by the time I got to IMS, track drying was almost complete and I knew I had gotten lucky. Living in Indy is May can provide bonuses like that when it's usually less than 30 minutes to get to the track no matter where you are. But now it was much colder and blustery so I needed the jacket and gloves I keep in my car just for days like yesterday.

Josef Newgarden's crew makes pit lane adjustments
Once the track went green, the activity got frantic as there appeared to be another bad weather cell moving in that could cut the already short day even shorter. I knew I had to get busy as well since there would be lots of people that would write the day off and I had an opportunity to get photos for that could be unique with so few people around. I decided to concentrate on the garage area, pit lane and the front stretch since it wasn't clear how long the weather window would stay open. I noticed right away that teams were really pushing hard to get laps run and were making lots of pit lane adjustments rather than wheeling the cars all the way back to the garage area. The order of the day seemed to be spring and shock changes and it was very interesting to see that work being done while packs of cars raced down the main straight in the background.
Ryan Briscoe (8) passes EJ Viso on the front stretch

There was also a lot of drafting and running in packs with passes being made going into Turn 1, which I thought was highly unusual with only two practice days left before qualifying. However, the forecast for today and tomorrow calls for more rain and the weekend temperatures are predicted to only be in the 50's, so any laps the teams could run could prove beneficial as the conditions Wednesday likely were similar to what they will face this weekend. There were lots of concerned faces on pit lane as the next weather system approached and then Jack Hawksworth crashed in Turn 3 around 6:00 which would have been the normal closing time for the track. But in another example of how the Speedway has become more open to adapting to circumstances, they had announced that practice would be extended to 7:00 pm which was quite unusual for a weekday practice day. Then it rained again and the day was over after only an hour or so of practice, yet teams still ran over 1,000 laps.

Roger Penske looked concerned Wednesday
With GP of Indy winner Simon Pagenaud setting fast time in Wednesday's abbreviated practice session and more wet weather in the forecast, teams are going to start feeling the pressure of Indianapolis ratchet up. Everyone starts the week feeling free and easy with lots of time to prepare on the calendar but Mother Nature often has her own ideas about the actual track time. Indy is a place that everyone wants to win and there is little risk of bumping this year, yet teams still want to start up front and the competition between Penske, Ganassi and Andretti has now been supplemented by Sam Schmidt's relatively small team and their talented wheelman Pagenaud. Even if the weather isn't warm, a team and driver can get hot at Indy where everything just seems to fall into place. It's too soon to say whether Pagenaud and Schmidt will have that kind of month but I would be willing to bet the other teams have taken notice.

I have to teach late today and won't be able to get back to IMS until tomorrow afternoon, so much could change between now and then. I'm glad I'm only 30 minutes away from the track no matter what and I'll be doing my best to make some pictures for Why? Because it's Indy and that's what I do. See you at the Speedway! ANd keep checking for more Indy 500 news and photos.
Tools of the trade at Indianapolis. Who will have the magic combination?

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