x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Indy 500 is not just for the Yanks

Pole Position The event had attracted foreign drivers as early as 1913, with the first success coming from Frenchman Jules Goux winning the event in only its third running in a Peugeot.

We've had circuit racing in the Gulf since Bahrain ran its first F1 event seven years ago. By contrast, the first Indianapolis 500 race was run 100 years ago. It's hard to imagine the enormous level of support and interest that is generated by an event that has so much history.

But is it relevant to us? Surely this is some peculiar form of Americans-only event, what with its cars running 220mph (355kph) laps on a 2.5 mile (4km) oval-shaped race circuit with four, high-speed corners banked at nine degrees?

Well, not quite. The event had attracted foreign drivers as early as 1913, with the first success coming from Frenchman Jules Goux winning the event in only its third running in a Peugeot. But after a short run of foreign drivers winning in European cars, it would be another 45 years of American domination before the legendary Scottish racer Jim Clark won the event in a Lotus in 1965. To make matters worse for the locals, the following year Damon Hill's father, Graham, took them by surprise when he beat them in a Lola. In fact, more than a quarter of the races have been won by foreign drivers, mostly from Brazil, UK, France and Italy.

 

Of the 41 drivers entered for this year's Indy 500, only 12 are American. In fact, the last time an American won this race was in 2006, when Sam Hornish Jr overtook young Marco Andretti on the last lap to win by six hundredths of a second. Not bad for a 500-mile (805km) race, eh?

You may have heard the famous Indianapolis Speedway being referred to as the "Brickyard". In 1909, after several very nasty accidents caused by the rough road surface, it was decided to resurface the track with bricks. Three million of them. Of course, with modern tarmac technology, they have all been replaced, except for one yard of the old bricks that remain at the start-finish line.

Last year, one of Britain's most promising young single-seater drivers, Mike Conway, had an enormous crash at the Indy 500 in which he nearly lost his life. Conway's car was launched into the catchfence and he was left with a broken back and a badly fractured left leg. The accident was caused by a driver running out of fuel and slowing suddenly on the racing line, which meant that Conway, who was running 220mph (355kph) laps, ran into the back of the slowing car. The notion of cars being allowed to run fuel-saving laps to get to the finish creates unnecessary risks.

Conway had to undergo a very challenging rehabilitation programme designed to gradually increase his return to full fitness.

He was able to return to the cockpit in a single-seater racing simulator at the PureTech Racing Centre near London in the UK. And surely nobody who saw that crash would have thought that, less than 11 months later, Conway would be able to race again. Unbelievably, not only was he able to race, but he won the first competition he raced - the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, beating fellow Brit Dario Franchitti. No doubt he will be looking for another win at this weekend's Indy 500.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to produce the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com