Race Weekend Central

Upon Further Review: Maybe a Full Month of May Is Needed for Indianapolis

The Indianapolis 500 is a race built upon tradition. From the pre-race buildup to 33 cars (for the most part), to spending a lot of time in Indianapolis, the Greatest Spectacle in Racing has a long history of tradition.

Things have changed over the last few decades as traditions came and went in and out of Indy 500 lore. There were several years where the winner’s post-race beverage was water in a cup called “Water from Wilbur,” named after Wilbur Shaw.

The aerial bombs usually set off at the start of the race haven’t been heard in numerous years. IMS eliminated the balloon release after environmental groups raised concerns over balloon waste and helium reserves being depleted.

And that’s only race day. Let’s look further back in the month.

After several decades on the Thursday before the race, Carb Day shifted to the Friday before the race, the same day that the now-defunct Freedom 100 ran. Earlier in the week on Monday is a post-qualifications practice session after two days of qualifications that used to be four days.

We now have four days of practice ahead of qualifications. The last time there were two scheduled weeks of practice on the Indianapolis 500 itinerary was 1997.

In 2024, the schedule mimics what the IndyCar world has reliably seen for nearly 15 years. However, Mother Nature has thrown a bit of a wrench into how practice will work for the 108th Indianapolis 500.

The green flag flew for only 23 minutes of track time on Tuesday before rain spoiled the rest of the day. Despite IndyCar extending their on-track running on Wednesday an additional hour, there were only two hours of green flag action before rain caused the day to end.

Thursday’s practice went off without a hitch but Friday’s forecast doesn’t exactly look great with the added turbocharger boost pressure added to the cars. That means that if Friday’s on-track practice is canceled, the IndyCar field will have under 10 hours of track time before trying to qualify at over 230 mph.

That doesn’t seem like a good idea. Yes, everybody knows that these chassis came out in 2012 and the notebook on them is rather thick. Yes, cross-pollination between teams has resulted in most teams having very similar setups.

However, we’ve seen what a lack of practice can do for an IndyCar race at a 2.5 mile superspeedway. Both bad Pocono Raceway accidents in 2018 and 2019 took place during race weekends with only one practice session.

The Daytona 500 had almost no track time for the NASCAR Cup Series. There was no pre-qualifying practice or any practice before the Twin Qualifying races, either. In fact, there were two 50-minute sessions, one each on Friday and Saturday.

Signature events require practice time. Indianapolis should be no different. However, there is a question about costs. If IMS were to decide on having two weeks of practice and to go back to the old format of two weekends of qualifying, there could be mandates on limiting practice time for certain teams.

See also
Pato O'Ward Fastest, Marcus Ericsson & Linus Lundqvist Crash in Thursday's Indianapolis Practice

Allowing all teams to practice freely before the first weekend of qualifying would be a good move. For the second week of practice, limiting qualified cars to one day of track time of their choosing would reduce operating costs for those teams.

Now there might have to be a return to the old “three attempts per car for the month” rule, but there’s room to figure that out.

The facts are, if there’s a lot of weather affecting Indianapolis 500 practice, drivers will need a bit more time to get ready for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. You don’t want to go into this race without enough practice.

About the author

Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.

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John

Indy media still call it “The Month of May,” but it isn’t anymore. All the cars alike negated that necessity. I’d like to see a variety of car chassis like in the old days. Everything alike is boring. Unfortunately, Nascar is also headed that way. No individual innovation = boring.

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