While he hopes the prospect of multiple bumping of cars from the starting field may bring an uptick in attendance for this weekend’s qualifying sessions for the Indianapolis 500, car owner Chip Ganassi says there are other significant factors in the equation.
“I remember in 1982, my rookie year here, there were 62 car-driver combinations, 62. Bumping was serious then,” Ganassi noted. “It wasn’t a fait accompli you were in the race. I think that’s what brought out the people. Having said that, I don’t think with the current formula — not that there’s anything wrong with it, I just think the days of guys spending a million-plus dollars to come here and have a chance of not making it, are probably gone. I think that’s just too much money to spend to not be in the race.
“I think that’s just the growth of the world, really. It doesn’t have anything to do with the sport or the rules or the cars. I think it’s just a fact.
“I also think people are accessing the sport in many different ways than they used to,” Ganassi continued. “I think young people, more people are accessing motorsports than ever before. They just don’t access it by showing up, like my generation did. The partners and sponsors we’re involved with, they know more about the sport from not being here almost than me being here, if they read a lot and follow it online, on their computer, their mobile device. Again, I think that’s just part of the growth of sports in general.”
Mike Hull, managing director for Ganassi’s team, reckons the prospect of speed records would be a stronger driver of increased interest in qualifying, although he acknowledged the economic factors mitigating against higher turbo boost in search of bigger speed numbers.
“I don’t want to give a political answer here. With notification to Chevrolet and Honda, that’s possible,” Hull said of a boost increase. “It would also require in this case at least one additional engine added to the rotation, which will cost more money.
“Chip referenced the 62 (entries) here in 1982. The very first time I came, the reason people came on qualifying day here was to see somebody break 190, 195, first one to go 200. I remember when (Tom) Sneva and (Rick) Mears were going for that 200 number. That morning, it was pouring rain. They were in the grandstands all the way around the racetrack and sat there till 3:30 in the afternoon when USAC decided we were going to practice, not qualify.
“People want to come here to watch people go fast. When you turn the boost up, you go faster. It’s really simple. So I think for this race, they ought to give us an extra engine and we should go faster.
“The only way the speed is going come back is for the engine power to go up because we’re not going to get the apron back, let’s face it,” Hull added. “I don’t want to get into that can of worms. The reality is that they have to enhance the engine, probably then also enhance the tires, for us to have that speed.”
Ganassi driver Scott Dixon agreed with his boss that it might be time to consider such a move.
“I think it’s a very valid point,” Dixon said in reference to Hull’s comments. “That (the chance at new track records) definitely does create a lot of noise for the fans. I think it’s something different.
“When was Arie’s lap?” he asked, referencing Arie Luyendyk’s Indy lap record of 237.498 mph, set back in 1996. “A very long time ago. Maybe next year. That’s not going to happen this year, I don’t think. Well, maybe it will. I don’t know.”