It was finally race day for the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We arrived at the speedway early and parked in the north lot across the street from the main north entrance. As we headed into the speedway, I stopped to ask a group of Indian men who were mingling around their vehicle to take a picture of Michelle and I with the track in the background. Not only did the guys take our picture with my camera, they also took pictures of us with their cameras. I, in turn took a group shot of them with the same view in the background. In a brief chat with them, I learned they had driven overnight from
Once we were inside the speedway, we finally found our seats for the race which we had not bothered to check out up until now. We had aisle seats at the top of the paddock grandstands across from the starting grid and pit garages - just what I had wanted for this event. It was already hot as hell and it was still morning but luckily there was a draft through the stands and our section was covered with a roof that blocked the sun from blazing down on us. The stands were quickly filling up with hundreds of fans carrying their flags and banners, wearing race team gear and snapping photos. Upon first glance around, it felt like I was in another country as no one seemed to be white American or from
As the pre-race activities kicked off on the starting grid, Michelle remained in her seat while I went down to the fence to watch closer and take pictures. I knew this would be the best opportunity to see the drivers as the cars were pushed to the grid. Part of the pre-race activities is a parade of the drivers waving to the crowd around the speedway. Than there are the grid girls who represent the host country at each event and adorn the grid as eye candy for the TV and speedway audience. Their job is to hold the signs that mark each driver's starting grid position (and look pretty for the media and TV). This is one of the few remaining examples of male chauvinism in major motorsports today. I saw most of the drivers go by in the parade or as they later prepared to enter their cars for the start. As you can see from my pictures, the crowd of onlookers and the fence obstruction prevented me from getting very good shots but it was still a cool experience none the less. Michael Schumacher and Ferrari's fan base known as the tifosi were prevalent in the paddock section and especially at the fence by his starting grid position. It was amazing to see the red shirts, hats and flags that made up a large portion of the audience.
Scott Speed - the first American driver in F1 since the early 90's was along the fence by his starting spot in 13th. A small crowd of fans had gathered early to cheer him and wave the American flag in support. As Scott appeared, he waved to the crowd and photographers surrounded him and the fans for photos. I did what I could to capture the moment as well.
I returned to my seat with Michelle for the race start. I know this isn't the largest crowd that Indy draws by far but by our view, the front stretch paddock and penthouse stands were packed. Its quite the experience to be part of such a large crowd for a global event that will be seen around the world. The only reference to the debacle from 2005 was a man carrying a sign that said "Got tires?" - a subtle reference to the previous year when only 6 Bridgestone shod cars took the start while the other 14 Michelin shod cars pitted and withdrew from the race as a final protest to the
The cars were now lined up, having completed their reconnaissance lap and were ready to take the green lights. The teams scurried off the grid as the 22 engines revved in anticipation of the standing start. The lights went out and every car launched as they quickly accelerated away out of sight and into the first turn.
A full course yellow was displayed as the Ferrari of Felipe Massa took the lead followed by his teammate Michael Schumacher. Jacques Villeneuve - my remaining favorite has also qualified better than normal and was looking strong for the race now that so many cars had fallen out. Within a few laps of the restart - his car too retired with an apparent engine failure. I was sad as I know how no one to cheer for. The race from here was not much of a contest as Ferrari walked away with the race and Michael Schumacher won, becoming the first driver to win at Indianapolis 5 times. His new record surpassed the 4 Indy 500 wins by AJ Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr.We remained in the stands after the race and watched from a distance as Michael, Felipe and Giancarlo were awarded their trophies on the winner's podium. We also watched as the wrecked cars from the first turn incident were returned to their team garages on flatbeds. It was a sad sight.The race we had just watched has since turned out to be a bit of a piece of F1 and Indy history as it was: Michael Schumacher's final USGP in the final year of his F1 career (who has announced his retirement at year's end), the final F1 race for Juan Pablo Montoya (who has switched to NASCAR for 2007), the final USGP for former World Champion Jacques Villeneuve and Indy 500 winner (who was fired by his BMW team later in the season), the first time a driver has won 5 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in its nearly 100 year history and the turning point in the 2006 season for Renault and Ferrari in the driver and constructor's championship. This was Ferrari's first sign of dominance in 2006 following a string of successes for 2005 champions - Fernando Alonso and Renault. The remaining F1 events in 2006 will define if Schumacher goes out on top or if Alonso proves that 2005 was no fluke for him and Renault.
As we exited the speedway and waited near my car in the lot for traffic to die down, a group of motorcycle cops escorted a black Mercedes SUV out of the speedway's north tunnel onto Speedway Blvd. I looked closer and saw Juan Pablo behind the wheel and his wife Connie in the passenger seat. Little did I know that this would be JPM's final exit from a F1 race weekend as a driver. After the race traffic let out, we eventually got back to our hotel downtown. Michelle went to clean up and I hung out in the hotel lounge enjoying free drinks and chatting with the other F1 fans who had also just returned from the race. While I was having a beer, I noticed Scott Speed come down the hallway from the elevator to the front desk to chat with the clerks. I couldn't help but to subtly approach him and say hello and offer my apologies to him for the first turn incident that took him out of his home GP and us American fan's hope for a future F1 star. Scott was very polite, shook hands with me and thanked me for my interest. I even managed to get the cute desk clerk to snap our photo with my camera phone. I had finally seen and met a F1 driver during our USGP experience. It turned out that Scott and his Toro Rosso teammate - Vitantonio Liuzzi, were both staying in our hotel.
Later that night, as Michelle and I returned from dinner, Vitantonio and a friend passed us heading out of the hotel lobby. I was too tired to say hello. That day, Liuzzi was quite fortunate to avoid the first corner crash and moved up in the order from his rear starting position to score the first point for Toro Rosso in their first season of F1 racing. Michelle and I decided to rest in the lobby for a bit before heading up to our rooms. We ended up meeting a couple guys who were also in town for the race and who one of worked for Red Bull. He invited us to join them for an afterparty at a club in town for Red Bull VIPs and guests. So we headed over to the party to check it out with them. The party was more of a sausagefest than anything. Some of the Red Bull Formula Unas girls were there briefly along with a couple other ladies but for the most part - it was guys. I saw former Red Bull Indycar racer and current Vision Racing driver - Tomas Scheckter come and go. Tomas had raced the night before at the Indycar race at Kansas Speedway. After our brief appearance, we returned to our suite for the final time for bed. It has been a long day and a exciting F1 weekend. Tomorrow was check-out and we still had a trip to