Adam Cooper's Thursday diary

Had to fill the car up on the way to the track, and it was nice not to have to worry about queues or shortages. Unfortunately the days of cheap petrol Stateside seem to have gone, and with the exchange rate at its worst for 16 years or something, this was an expensive exercise. Yes folks, I'm afraid to say that unleaded now costs a pound. That's for a gallon, of course...

After the previous afternoon's deluge, Thursday turned out bright and sunny and there was no sign of the poor weather that is expected to dominate the weekend. Everyone made the most of it, and the paddock was a bright and cheerful place as the atmosphere began to build.

It was starting to look busier both inside and outside the track, as souvenir stands began to crop up in the roads around the giant stadium. More and more punters have begun arriving in town, and those without tickets had plenty of opportunity to deal with the many scalpers who have openly set up shop in the vicinity.

Quite a few fans did get in and were roaming around the place without any sort of pass, and a surprising number had made it all the way into the paddock without being challenged, and were merrily collecting autographs. You would struggle to get such easy access at Silverstone or Monza on a Thursday. A lot of visitors were paying homage to the legendary line of bricks on the startline. It's right in front of pole, and whoever starts there is going to get some serious wheelspin after they've moved about a car length. They're also going to get a sore neck looking up at the gantry lights, which seem to be unusually close to the first grid slot.

The intrepid fans had managed to elude the legions of 'yellow shirts', or what we might term paddock marshals in Europe. Officially known as the Safety Patrol, they get their nickname from their lemon-coloured official apparel. They basically run the place, and decide who goes where and who gets in. Since most of them are senior citizens they've seen it all before, and some of them don't seem to be taking too kindly to this European invasion, although others are going with the flow.

As the interminable wait until the cars take to the track dragged on, I took the opportunity to have a wander up to Turn 13, and take a closer look at the banking. Dramatic tyre marks from August's Brickyard 400 meeting are still very much in evidence, but what you don't see from afar are the long term scars of dozens of accidents. The walls may be freshly painted, but in places great chunks have been dug out by gearboxes or such like, while the track surface itself has been gouged by suspension parts and other protusions from gyrating Indycars. Sobering stuff.

I also took a closer look at Turn 12, the one onto the banking. It was surprising to note that the white line that marks the edge of the transition from the new tarmac is not painted, but is in fact a plastic sticker that can easily be removed when the track goes back to oval spec. Nice idea, but probably not much fun if you run over it in the wet. And the same goes for the kerb on the outside of the turn; it is made not of cement but interlocking plastic blocks, bolted into the track.

The use of this temporary fix makes sense in that a more solid kerb at this spot would have made a mess of the banking. But what I find really odd is that the plastic kerbing crops up in several other places around the track, where it looked to me as though concrete could easily have been used. As I said, it'll be fun in the wet...

After hanging round near race control I finally managed to cadge a lift round the track in a Mercedes 4WD vehicle driven by an official, which gave me a chance to see the whole thing up close. And mightily impressive it is too. As I said yesterday, Turn 12 is going to be something to watch.

One novelty worth noting is the pit exit; after the garages and speed limit end, drivers go for what seems like the best part of 400m down a sort of concrete tunnel before they re-join the track just before Turn 1. A white blend line on the track allows them to pull out and mix with traffic on the track that is probably just on the point of braking from 220mph.

That braking is conducted with the cars running hard up against the concrete wall, in order to get the best line into the very tight Turn 1. Even in a Merc road car the braking area seemed a little bumpy, and the tyre marks left by the recent Porsche Supercup testing was evidence that a lot of stopping is required. It should be quite interesting. Fortunately the turn is followed by the longest escape road in motor racing history; brake too late and you just go sailing round the oval - I presume you can skip the entire infield and re-join at Turn 12, which would really confuse the timekeepers...

When we got back to the pits someone who I'd better describe as 'A Driver' popped his head in the window and asked if he could do his first lap of the track. Now, there are fairly strict rules about what drivers can and can't do in situations like this; basically they have to ask permission before they can go out and explore.

The official gave the go-ahead and got out of the car, but your correspondent decided to take his chance and stay put while Mr Driver and two associates climbed in. Since I had a couple of laps of experience I was able to point my illustrious chauffeur in the right direction as we headed out of the pits.

Turn 3, a right hander with a late apex, really caught his attention first time round. His initial impressions were that a lot of the slow corners in the infield were bound to encourage understeer, and that the wide track was bound to encourage people to dive down the inside. He was also mightily impressed by our wheels, whose 5.5-litres of AMG power made for some fairly swift motoring.

After a couple of laps he began to get into the swing of things, and which point marshals began to wave yellow flags at us. I thought they were just being friendly, but in fact it had just gone 2pm - and as is usual for the next hour the track was reserved for the use of the safety and medical cars, which run round at full speed to test the camera positions and timing systems. And we were about to get in the way...

I must admit I never knew the safety car had a police siren, but it was very much in evidence when a blur of silver and flashing orange lights came up behind us. Bernd Maylander gave a very clear 'pull over' gesture, and Mr Driver sheepishly acknowledged his presence. We were still a couple of corners from the pits, so he put his foot down with the intention of getting out of the way as soon as possible.

This was a mistake and just seemed to irk our pursuers even more, who pulled alongside again, and this time it was made abundantly clear that we were in the wrong. We duly headed down the pitlane back to race control, where a very senior person was waiting to give Mr Driver a bollocking for messing up the system. Yours truly slipped away as subtly as possible...

Away from the track-side action a trip to the Indy museum, or Hall of Fame, is an absolute must. The place is packed with stunning machinery, including a wonderful array of winning cars going right back to the Marmon Wasp of 1911, complete with its legendary rear view mirror - supposedly the first ever seen on any car. There are a couple of surprises awaiting European visitors.

First, among the ranks of Indy racers is the Ferrari 250LM in which Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory won the 1965 Le Mans 24 Hours. And secondly, there's an amazing display of Rudolf Caracciola memorabilia. After being injured in qualifying for the 1946 500 the pre-war Mercedes ace recuperated at the home of track owner Tony Hulman; and in gratitude his collection was bequeathed to the Speedway. What a curious place in which to find the priceless winning trophies from such as the 1936 Monaco GP or 1937 German GP...

In the evening there was an evening of go-kart racing at a track run by none other than Stefan Johansson. Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz turned up for a quick Q&A session with the media, and later Bobby Rahal, Max Papis and drag racing star Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme took part in a celebrity race - and none of them beat the fastest time of the day, which at the time was held by your very own correspondent!

As more of my colleagues took to the track so my best slipped down the order, but I'm pleased to note that Autosport.com was still well represented at the sharp end. That all dragged on until 11pm, and having just got back to the hotel I'm feeling more than a little knackered as jet lag kicks in. Traffic is going to be a drama even on Friday, so an early start will be required.

I'm planning to watch the start of practice from Turn 13. Where else? Normally we complain that Fridays are deadly dull, but this is surely going to be one of the most fascinating days in F1 history. And one thing I'm looking forward to is hearing how the noise of 22 V10s reverberates between the stands and the new pit buildings; I don't think many of the locals know what's going to hit them. I'll let you know how it goes...

Cheers,

AC

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