There were just two bits of track action to wrap up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today before the pre-race party could really get underway. First was Carb Day running for the main field, a last chance to fettle the cars for the race, and then the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race.
After that, well, for most fans it was time to crack open the beers, get over to the ZZ top concert and get a little bit rowdy, safe in the knowledge that there’s an opportunity to sleep it off tomorrow, ahead of the big race. No question, the Indy 500 is as much if not more rock festival than race to most people here.
Joining the Fazzt race team, I got to follow the fortunes of drivers Alex Tagliani and Bruno Junqueira. After Tagliani’s star turn in qualifying, it was Junqueira’s chance to shine today, the Brazilian (who may be better known to European race fans as the man Jenson Button pipped to a Williams F1 drive) setting a top five practice time despite previously having hardly any running time thanks to an incredibly tight budget.
My vantage point was pretty special, high up on top of the turn three grandstand with team spotters Alex Magy and Jim Cooke. Their job is to watch over half the track and act as their driver’s eyes, warning them of any hazards and letting them know either if someone is trying to pass, or when to pull down after a pass. You may wonder why the drivers can’t do this themselves, but at 220mph in a high-sided single-seater there’s a lot that they simply can’t see.
Spotting is an incredibly pressured job, not least because one mistake can spell disaster, but Magy and Cooke are ex-racers themselves, and went about it with a calm, to-the-point authority, even peeling back their headphones when their driver was out of sight for the occasional chat. Cool, calm and measured, and with enough mental capacity and concentration to do the job and more, they delivered information into the cockpits of the cars as if they were ordering a drink from a bar.
Life was pretty complicated for the duo, who were trying to pick out their race car from a braying pack with the full glint of the morning sun in their eyes. Frankly, until a car was below me I couldn't tell who was driving it; these guys, with the help of binoculars, were chatting away, handing over key information as the car's exited turn two, almost a mile away. It was fascinating, and another key element in what separates Indycar from F1.
Not even a spotter could save Indy Lights racer Pippa Mann from a big crash though. After making history yesterday by becoming the first woman ever to take a pole at Indy, the British racer slipped down the field at the start and then got caught up in someone else’s accident. At these speeds, in these confines, sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.