Adam Cooper's race diary

Well, the first US GP at Indianapolis has been and gone, and despite predictions to the contrary everything passed without a hitch. Perhaps we'd underestimated the IMS organisation, the FIA people who approved the plans and the teams' ability to adjust to new circumstances.

However, one or two questions still remain in my mind; we never saw a properly wet session, and nor did we see what would happen if someone had a problem on the banking. Perhaps those will be answered next year, when a tyre war will up the ante, and speeds increase dramatically...

As predicted, Indiana was wet on Sunday morning, but as on Saturday the rain had stopped by the time we made an early exit from the hotel at around 6.45am. Local radio station Q-95 gave regular updates on the traffic around the Speedway, but they didn't mention the queue in Georgetown Rd until we were actually in it.

This is the road that approaches the north west corner of the track, or Turn 4 of the oval. It's lined with small bungalows, most of which are rather tatty looking, and the owners were all keen to improve their fiscal situation by offering parking facilities on their front lawns.

Nearly every house had someone standing outside holding a 'Parking' sign - some were grubby bits of cardboard, while others were professionally printed, bearing a Q95 logo and a space to write the price in by hand. This started at $10 and rose to $25 as we got closer to the track. At that point the police joined in with the game, and unless you had an FIA pass on your windscreen, you were asked to turn into someone's garden rather than carry on to the official public lot just 100m up the road.

The Indy police, who also have no interest at all in the many ticket scalpers, clearly have an understanding of free enterprise. From time to time a blaring siren and flashing lights in the mirror would indicate the fast approach of a motorcade on the wrong side of the road. Who would it be, one thought - the state governor, Michael Schumacher or perhaps Bernie Ecclestone? In fact the cops were giving escorts to coachloads of Paddock Club VIPs. And one can only presume that they didn't do it out of a sense of civic duty...

In the end the jams weren't as bad as I expected, and it didn't take long to get into our parking lot in the infield. The track was still pretty soaked for the warm-up, and we didn't learn much about possible form for the afternoon. Shortly after it ended the rain came back, so there seemed a real chance that the race would be wet. That added to the palpable sense of expectation as the stands began to fill to capacity.

However, the rain helped to empty the paddock, as people took shelter wherever they could. Even without the rain, there was a surprising lack of celebs. Regulars on view included Fergie, Placido Domingo and former athlete Ed Moses (choosing Indy over a trip to Sydney), and the only real novelty was David Letterman, who made a very low-key appearance. You might have expected to see more showbiz stars, but that was stymied by the shortage of flights and five star hotel rooms - plus I guess the teams' lack of Hollywood contacts.

After the Porsche and Ferrari support races, the early 1pm start time finally began to draw near. The place to be for the final build-up was on the grid. By now the rain had stopped and the oval section was almost totally dry, but it was clear that the rest was still pretty damp.

I was on the grid for the 500 six years ago, and for the first Brickyard 400 later that same year. This time the grey skies put a bit of a downer on things, but it was still special. There are huge stands at places like Hockenheim, but nothing quite compares to Indy, where the front rows are just a few yards away.

The preliminaries were as entertaining as you might expect; a helicopter fly-past, a marching band, majorettes, a chorus of the Star-Spangled Banner and a very American invocation. Even Bernie's loyal lieutenant Pasquale was getting all emotional.

Standing with his wife by the line of bricks was a beaming Tony George. He may be a controversial figure at times, but the guy had made the impossible happen, and he could allow himself a big smile. Nevertheless, when a passing BAR mechanic spilled a trolley of tyres the Indy boss found time to help him clear up the dangling tyre warmer cables. I couldn't resist asking him what was going through his mind at this time. "Right now I'm just wondering when they're going to throw me off the grid!" he said. "I'm just looking forward to the first standing start here at Indianapolis."

The race you saw for yourself, so I don't need to go into detail. Suffice to say that while it had some moments of high drama, the sight of a Schumacher droning round with a huge lead over his team mate would not have impressed non-believers, although you could argue that on paper at least, there could be no better result.

For me the biggest surprise was that the FIA did not take the golden opportunity to send out the safety car after Pedro de la Rosa parked on the pit straight. Some cynics were convinced that if it got a little strung out 'debris' on the oval section that would allow the show to be improved by closing up the field. And yet this golden chance - which would have caused few complaints from teams - was not taken.

Inevitably after the flag the American journalists began to sharpen their knives, and I'm talking about the racing specialists here, not local guys who know nothing of the sport. Not that they were even paying attention; the guy sitting in front of me, one of the most influential agency journalists, spent the whole race watching the Dover Downs NASCAR positions ticking over on a website. Another fellow who works for America's most famous sports publication loudly proclaimed that Hakkinen was pulling off because of a brake fire...

Nevertheless, some of those who usually do know what they're talking about were openly critical of the whole thing. I'm sure these guys had made their minds up before they'd left home. All I can say is that they don't have to come back next year.

It was disappointing to see the paddock empty so quickly after the race. With traffic sure to be a nightmare and flight schedules tight, all the drivers who'd retired had long made their escape, and most of the finishers were quickly on the way to the gates. Within half an hour the grandstands too were completely deserted, and the task of picking up the tons of litter had begun.

Later I headed down to Union Jacks for a bite to eat, and the timing was good as a re-run of the race was being shown on TV. It was interesting to see the American broadcast in its entirety; commentator Derek Bell got it just right when he speculated about Michael Schumacher struggling to keep his concentration along the long straight some 15 laps before the German actually spun off. Nice one Dinger!

It was also worth noting that there was extensive use of in-car shots on the US terrestrial feed; with at least four cameras employed on the cars of Schumacher, Villeneuve and Barrichello. On the giant screen's hi-fi system in the pub, it sounded great. From what my pals back home tell me you didn't see quite as much of this stuff in Europe. Bernie Ecclestone has long been accused of saving the in-car shots for his digital service, so I presume he decided to give the US viewers a bit of a show. The rest of the world could have the usual service...

The news programme that followed seemed to be fairly positive about the whole thing, but also noted that there had been two fatal shootings in town over the weekend. The actual deaths weren't the story - it was the fact that they happened while Indianapolis was hosting its largest ever influx of foreign visitors, and that the city should somehow be ashamed of itself. British and German fans were interviewed and asked if the murders would stop them from coming back, but it didn't seemed to have spoiled their visits. They did however point out that gun control laws might make the US a little safer...

The night finished at the famed Slippery Noodle Inn, where BAR threw a party. They had a double points finish to celebrate, although folk from most other teams turned up to join in the fun. These days such get togethers are extremely rare, so hectic are people's travel schedules.

That really signalled the end of what had been an amazing week for F1, and for the Indianapolis. But as far as the city is concerned, attention has quickly moved on to more important matters. On Monday night at the downtown RCA Dome the Colts football team will be in action in a televised game that will receive national attention, and even a GP cannot much the sort of wall-to-wall media coverage this game will generate. The visitors are the Jacksonville Jaguars from Florida; wonder if they'll be luckier than the big cats who competed on Sunday...

Best regards,


PS: The weather may have been a little dull on Sunday, but F1 got away lightly. When I looked out of the morning on Monday it was raining again, but this time it didn't stop - it poured down all day, the deluge finally fizzling out around 9pm. Race day might have been very different! Meanwhile on Monday night the Indianapolis Colts put on what the pundits said was their best ever showing to demolish the Jacksonville Jaguars.

At one point the ABC TV commentator mentioned that Michael Schumacher was in the crowd, in so doing bringing the German's name to an entire nation of dedicated sportsfans. Far, far more than would have been able to see the race itself on the relatively obscure Fox Sports Net...

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