Sure it’s Only Six Cars, But...

   I don’t remember when it was, but I still can remember my reaction when Dad asked if my younger brother, Corey, and I would be interested in seeing a Formula 1 race live at the track. I don’t think it took more than a few seconds for us to respond with a resounding “Yes” when he got the question out. Seeing the beautiful, sexily shaped cars going around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and seeing in person the drivers like whom I wanted to be would be the highest point in my life at that time!
   Since Formula 1 had arrived in Indianapolis in 2000 to race on the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I had been curious to see a race in person. I had been out to Friday Practice with Mom and Corey in 2002 — my first time seeing a Formula 1 car in person — but to see a race in person was an opportunity I couldn’t resist!
   Dad explained that he got the tickets for free, because he and Mom would be assisting in the presentation of an oversized US Flag that would be a part of the pre-race ceremonies. Along with that, we got a pass to park in the Media Parking lot, along the back straight, and free tickets to every event day of the weekend. Our shouts of “Yeah!” and the sound of us jumping could probably be heard three blocks away when Dad made the announcement.
   Finally, the big weekend came, and I felt as if it were Christmas! I could not wait to get to the track to see my favorite racing drivers in action; we woke up very early so we could get to the track to see all the sessions. The first practice session was already underway when we arrived. Nevertheless, we found a good place from which to watch, and began enjoying our weekend.
   Mom and Dad had Friday free, so, we just enjoyed ourselves. After Formula 1 first practice, we took a walk through the “souvenir village” that had been set up in the parking lot of the Hall of Fame Museum. I purchased a Giancarlo Fisichella shirt — I also bought a BMW.Williams baseball cap. (Giancarlo Fisichella and BMW.Williams were amongst my favorite drivers and teams.) Corey bought a Scuderia-Ferrari shirt, his favorite team.
   After the racers’ lunch break, we returned to a seat on one of the viewing hills and continued to enjoy the action. (I had also decided to put on my newly purchased Giancarlo Fisichella shirt and wear my new BMW.Williams cap.) We were amazed when, during second practice, the session was stopped because Ralf Schumacher had had a crash while exiting Turn 13 (IndyCar/NASCAR Turn 1), which was very similar to his crash in 2004. His left-rear Michelin tire exploded while he was on the banking, causing the rear of his car to jerk to the left, the car facing the entrance to the pits. He then backed into a concrete barrier on the outside of the track — completely destroying the rear end of his car and causing him some back pain. This was the first sign of Michelin tire problems, but we were unaware of the problems... We remained until the final session of the day (qualification session 1 for the Porsche Michelin Supercup series) had finished.
   Awaking with sunrise, we were quickly back at the Speedway on Saturday. During the first practice session, while Mom and Dad were learning how to carry a massive US Flag, Corey and I watched the Michelin teams learn how to deal with their exploding tires. They experimented with using the pits on every lap. Jacques Villeneuve, in a Sauber-Petronas, must have volunteered for that assignment for he was the only driver doing so; Corey and I laughed at that. Little did we know that it would be one of the final attempts to get the situation fixed...
   We couldn’t wait for Mom and Dad to return (so we could tell them about Jacques). When they did, we migrated to the middle of the Speedway. From there, we watched the second Saturday practice session. We had no idea anything was out of the ordinary — all the drivers were turning laps at respectable times. About middle of the way through the session, an announcement came over the Public Address system: “It looks as if they’ve gotten the tire situation figured out.” We heard it as “timing situation” and we were perplexed as to what they were saying. The remainder of the practice session went off without any major incidents — only a few people spinning or sliding off the track, no damage. We headed back to the car for lunch feeling happy, and impatiently waited for qualifications.
   By the time the qualification session came about (after seeing an exciting event staged by the Porsche Michelin Supercup series), everything seemed normal. All the teams sent out their normal drivers — except Toyota who had to replace Ralf Schumacher with Ricardo Zonta, due to Herr Schumacher’s injuries sustained in his accident. The other Toyota, driven by Jarno Trulli, set the pole speed, though it was later revealed that he had less than two laps’ worth of fuel because of the teams’ strategies for Sunday. After the qualification session, we stuck around and enjoyed the remaining events — staged by the Formula BMW USA series (a development series for open-wheel drivers) and the Porsche Michelin Supercup series (a series only consisting of Porsche 911s).
   Finally, the big day came — it was race day! I was so excited that I had trouble sleeping on Saturday night, but was quickly awake on Sunday morning. I wore my Giancarlo Fisichella shirt again, packed my Ferrari and Mercedes flags (which I had just bought on Friday) into the car, and put on my BMW.Williams hat. I was ready to go!
   When we arrived at the track, we unloaded and Corey and I headed to the front straight to stake out seats for the whole family. While we did, Mom and Dad headed to wherever they needed to be for the flag thing. Corey and I saw the final Porsche Michelin Supercup race, and then settled in for the big show. We experienced first-hand all the pre-race events that we’d seen on TV. We saw Mom and Dad on the track in the flag ceremony, saw the drivers’ parade, and hoped Mom and Dad would be back in time for the start of the race.
   They were, and it’s a good thing, too, because our first race was the 2005 United States Grand Prix. The formation lap started out just like a normal race. The four of us were giddy with excitement and couldn’t wait for the cars to return to the grid and start the race. That is, until they rounded Turn 13 and all the Michelin-shod teams — Toyota, McLaren-Mercedes (another of my favorite teams), Renault (the team for which Giancarlo Fisichella raced), Sauber-Petronas, BMW.Williams, Red Bull Racing, and BAR-Honda — pulled off the track and parked their cars at their respective garages. That left the three Bridgestone-shod teams — Scuderia Ferrari, Jordan-Honda, and Minardi-Cosworth — to run the race. We, along with the crowd, were really confused. The PA announcers were speaking so excitedly their comments were unintelligible! Nobody knew what was going on.
   We figured there had been a problem and the start would be delayed. Nope. The lights came on; all five lit up, and then went out. The race was on! The crowd was furious. I was afraid for my life for a few laps as angry fans started throwing debris in the form of bottles, cans, and other trash onto the track. It got so bad an announcement came over the PA: “Those who continue to throw debris onto the track will face prosecution.” But, when the rowdy people finally left, the four of us looked at each other and asked, “Do we stay or go?” We finally decided: “Sure it’s only six cars, but this is our first F1 race! We’re staying until the last breath of the post-race interviews.”
   We were glad we did, because, even though it was only six cars, it was still a lot of fun. That race was an experience different from what any of us had ever experienced. We saw Brazilians a few rows behind us who would jump and cheer every time that Brazilian Rubens Barrichello challenged then-Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher for the lead. We had some Central Europeans in front of us who were huge Michael Schumacher fans. We saw who were the true F1 fans at Indianapolis, and those who were just there because they could be. Across the track from us was a Finnish family who were cheering for Kimi Räikkönen, who drove a McLaren-Mercedes, but stayed anyway, just to watch the race because it was Formula 1. Of course, who got shown on the news? The non-F1 fans. Nobody even cared that Michael Schumacher led a Ferrari one-two for the second year in a row, and that Tiago Montiero had his first career podium finish in third place.
   For the next month, until the next race in France, there was major uncertainty. Especially prevalent was the uncertainty about what happened to the tires — to the best of my knowledge, Michelin has never officially stated the cause. There were threatened lawsuits, penalties, and other legal action against Michelin, the teams who refused to race, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The future of Formula 1 in the United States was on shaky ground. But, after an extraordinary meeting of the World Motor Sport Council nothing extraordinary happened, and the United States Grand Prix would remain on the 2006 schedule. The threats of legal action in the United States quieted when Michelin agreed to offer a number of fans free tickets for the 2006 United States Grand Prix.
   We did get back to watch a Formula 1 race before they left Indianapolis — in fact seeing the last race held in Indy for the foreseeable future, due to controversy in 2004 and 2005. While that was a full and exciting race, it did not have the same feel as the almost intimate relationship of the 2005 race. It had a lot more grandeur than 2005, and for that reason will always remain in my memory. But, 2005 had a special feel because it was my first live F1 race; that will allow it to always retain a special place in my mind, even if it were only six cars.


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