Americans certainly know how to put on a motor race. Yesterday’s Indianapolis 500 was a thriller on the track, as Dario Franchitti resisted a last-lap challenge from Takuma Sato to win the famous race for the third time. 

Yet even if the race had been processional, the pomp and ceremony surrounding it makes Indy one of those ‘bucket list’ events for many petrolheads. It certainly was for me, and having ticked the box this weekend, I can say with some certainly that it was the most atmosphere-fuelled racing event I’ve ever attended.

Indy is huge, both geographically and in terms of its prominence in the US auto racing calendar. You only really get a sense of how massive the place is when you arrive at the track and feel dwarfed by the huge grandstands towering over you. When every seat and grass bank is crammed with spectators, the noise and colour is overwhelming. 

On race day, the track opens at 5.33am, but it’s not enough to simply unlock the padlock and open the gates; Indy fires off a cannon that is loud enough to be heard four miles away in the city centre. 

With more than 300,000 race fans pouring towards Indy, there is traffic gridlock. For three miles on Georgetown Road, West 16th Street and the other main arteries to the track, every house and business frontage is draped with banners, posters and chequered flags.