We are just over a week away from the race that has almost as much history as cars, flight and radio. If the title of this post didn't give it away then know that it is the Indianapolis 500. Thirty-three guys and gals going balls-out (those girls have balls too... call 'em steel ovaries) on a rectangular and extremely tricky track to get the chance to drink a big jug of milk. To give an idea of how crazy this is, remember that these cars go fast enough and produce enough downforce to theoretically be able to run upside down, but unlike F1 cars that pressure is on full time for about 3 hours, and unlike other super-speedway races where the cars can just run flat-out because of the banked oval tracks, Indianapolis has very slight banks compared to other speedways, making the 90 degree turns anywhere from "tricky" to "oh shit I'm in the wall". Yes, the Indy 500 deserves its nickname very well, thanks.
Why do I love this race so much? Because there's just nothing like it. The only way to top it would be to have the equivalent in the air, but I don't think 33 pilots with almost identical planes would be crazy enough to try it. I've mentioned before that I've been a Gilles Villeneuve fan basically since birth, and even back in those days when GV was in F1 and JV only a paddock brat, I was already a fan of Rick Mears, Gordon Johncock, Bobby Rahall, AJ Foyt Jr, and all those nut-cases who each year spent the month of May giving Death the middle finger. A few people lost that gamble over the years though; the Indy 500 has more than its fair share of drama. So all the Indy 500s I had watched have been extremely exciting. Then came 1994.
The young paddock brat had grown up and proved in Japanese F3000 and Formula Atlantic that he had The Right Stuff. The year after he won his home race, on the track wearing his dad's name, JV made the jump into CART and not only qualified for the Indy 500, but excelled in it, finishing a close second thanks to a yellow flag finish and earning the Rookie of the Year award. Side note: even if you're a known Old Hand at racing, when you race your first Indy 500 you're a rookie. Never had a rookie finished so strong. And it was only starting.
In 1995, Team Forsyth/Green had created "The Car". To paraphrase Lightning McQueen, a fine instrument of speed and aerodynamics. After JV had won his first CART race at Elkhart Lake the previous year, he was now in a position to win not only the championship, but also the mythical race. The month of May was a good one because JV started 5th on the grid, but what followed was one of the most chaotic Indy 500 ever, with tons of penalties, crashes and yellow flags. But out of all the chaos JV went out and did something worthy of his dad: he came back from a 2-lap penalty to fight for the win with canuck comrade Scott Goodyear. And on the very last restart Goodyear did the unthinkable by getting black-flagged for passing the pace car before it even started getting back into the pits. Jacques Villeneuve had just won the very first Indy 505!
With the perfect number too !!!
It wouldn't be until 2009 before Quebecers started being successful again at the Brickyard. Patrick Carpentier had had a chance a few years before in the Cheevers/Red Bull team but the car's performance was less than stellar. But last year Alexandre Tagliani qualified for the race by the skin of his teeth, starting the race 33rd on grid, the last spot available, but earned the Rookie of the Year award by finishing 11th. And now here we are in 2010. Tag and a bunch of Montreal race freaks and business people started a new team called FAZZT, and with some solid starts earlier in the season things are looking good for the Indy 500 where Tag is now heading towards a Top 10 on the starting grid. Will he become the second canadian AND quebecer to win one of the most grueling tests for man and machine? On May 30th, we shall find out.
Speed. Is. Everything.