Arrow McLAREN's Fan Guide to the Indianapolis 500
33 drivers, 200 laps, 500 miles, and 1 bottle of milk – here's your guide to the inner workings of the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500
It’s the Month of May, and all eyes are on the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Rich in history, tradition and on-track action, the Indianapolis 500 has solidified its place as one of the most famous events in all of sports.
As the team gears up for the next two weeks of Indy 500 preparations, get caught up on everything you need to know about "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
What is the Indianapolis 500?
You’ve heard the name. The Indianapolis 500, commonly referred to as the “Indy 500” or “500,” is by far the most-prestigious event on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar. And, if you’re into analogies, you can think of the Indy 500 as our Super Bowl. Steeped in tradition, the annual event dates back to 1911.Since then, it has transformed into the world’s largest single-day sporting event with a month of festivities to accompany it.
Why is it so historic?
Up for a quick history lesson? Simply put, the Indy 500 is one of the oldest and most important automobile races in motor racing.
In 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened as a testing ground for the booming automobile industry in Indiana. By June of the same year, the first competitive event took place at the IMS – a gas-filled balloon race. A few months later in August, a motorcycle event was held on the oval, racing on a surface composed of crushed stone sprayed with tar.
In 1911, the first Indy 500 took place on May 30, seeing Ray Harroun win the inaugural event with an average speed of 74.602 mph in a Marmon on a racetrack paved with 3.2 million bricks. Fun fact: It’s believed that the Marmon “Wasp” was the first automobile in the world to have a rear-view mirror. Since then, the race has grown in both distance and popularity with each decade, and it is now regarded as one of racing’s Triple Crown events and a must-see for racing fans across the world.
The race itself comes with over a century worth of tradition: crossing the famous remaining 36-inch strip of original bricks, champions drinking a cold glass of milk and the winner being immortalized on the Borg-Warner trophy. After over 100 years of racing, the Indy 500 is a crown jewel in the motorsports world, known for its long-distance racing at unthinkable speeds.
What are some of these traditions surrounding the race?
There’s a reason we refer to the 500 as a spectacle. For the entire month of May, the city of Indianapolis becomes electric in support of the 500 festivities. Such an iconic race does not come without its own share of iconic traditions. Here are just a few of our favorites:
500 Festival Parade – Ranked as one of the top-three US-based parades year after year, the 500 Festival Parade was first organized in 1957 and is attended by celebrities, drivers and over 200,000 spectators in downtown Indianapolis as part of the weekend’s race festivities.
Kissing The Bricks – Started by NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett after his Brickyard 400 win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the winning driver and team now gather on the frontstretch to kneel and kiss the famous Yard of Bricks after their victory.
Winners Drink Milk – It’s exactly what you’re thinking... a tradition dating back to 1936, when Louis Meyer drank buttermilk, each Indy 500-winning driver quenches their post-race thirst with a nice, big swig of their milk of choice (Except in 1993 when Emerson Fittipaldi drank orange juice in victory circle).
Borg-Warner Trophy – Standing over five feet tall, the coveted Borg-Warner Trophy sits among sport’s most iconic prizes, decorated with permanent sculptures of every Indy 500 winner’s face since 1936.
What is the race format?
The Month of May isn’t built like any other race weekend. It’s two weeks of 220-plus miles per hour. The cars are on track beginning May 16, having daily 6-hour-long practice sessions to work on perfecting their race car.
The first week is all about finding driver comfortability in the race car, working with engineers and the mechanics to build the fastest machine. (We’ll break down different types of runs shortly.) On Fast Friday, the cars receive a boost of about 90 extra horsepower, increasing speeds to over 230-plus mph in preparation for qualifying on the weekend. At the end of Friday, teams draw for where they will line up to qualify on Saturday. Then, the drivers’ next two days are spent trying to put down the fastest lap of their life for the best position on the grid for the biggest race of the season. A lot of adjectives there, we know.
The second week, cars are still going fast... but the drivers and teams only get two on-track sessions before the 500-mile event. When not on track, drivers spend their week engaging fans in the community with activities such as visiting local schools, a massive autograph session with fans, and the aforementioned parade through downtown Indianapolis. The whole city shows out for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
The Friday before the race is a special day, but let’s cover it separately.
Last, but certainly not least, is race day. This one might be self-explanatory.
That was a lot, so let’s break it down. Why do the teams practice so long?
There is so much that goes into building the perfect Indy500 entry. For two weeks, teams are testing every possible situation to create a car that can handle anything on race day. Different scenarios are created through weather, track temperature, tires and more to test all the “what ifs” that could happen on Sunday. Any variable that could affect the outcome of the race is factored into a testing program and executed until everyone is happy or time has hit its limit.
When the car rolls out of the garage on race morning, the team will hope they have created the race-winning car.
There are different types of runs?
We’ve been using this word a lot, and it’s not in reference to a two-legged jog. These are the different scenarios the engineers, mechanics and driver put the car in to see how it races in different conditions. Examples:
Race Run – The most-common type of run. The cars are set in a race-simulated setup and, when on track, they practice long-distance stints to test the durability of the car’s settings at consistent top speeds.
Qualifying Run – This type of run is where the car is set up to go as fast as it can for 10 miles. Factors like having the wing at a certain angle or tires at a certain pressure all create a vehicle built for speed but only for a limited time. This type of run is also done when there are no other cars around, hoping to simulate a scenario the driver will receive during qualifications.
Tow – A tow is when the driver is behind another, receiving additional speed due to less resistance from the air in front of them. Drivers must understand how their car handles different scenarios during a race run in all areas of the track.
No Tow – A no tow run is, you guessed it, when a car runs in no traffic. Essentially, feeling how the car acts in clean air (like if you're leading the race 😉).
How do you qualify?
Similar to oval qualifying, the cars will line up on pit lane for their runs. However, a couple things differ during Indy 500 qualifications.
Qualifying is from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET. One car at a time, each car will attempt its first qualifying run based on the qualifying draw determined on Friday. Each team has the opportunity to try again and again for a better starting position prior to that 5 o’clock cutoff.
Cars will be slotted by its qualifying speed’s average over four laps. This means the driver needs to be flat out, pushing the car to the absolute limit for 10 miles.
This means cars are going upwards of 230-plus mph for, like previously stated, six hours. Only this time, everything is on the line. If a car chooses to go for a second, third or fourth try, they have two options: Get in lane 2, allowing the driver to keep their original four-lap qualifying speed, or join the priority lane 1 and forfeit your previous speed to see if you improve or not.
Now, why would drivers pick the first lane? Depending on a multitude of factors (temperature changes, location of the sun, wind direction or even a long line in lane 2). Some drivers may be desperate to improve their position or qualify inside the top 30 to avoid Bump Day qualifying on Sunday.
If that isn't enough stress, the top-12 drivers get to do it all over again Sunday morning for Fast 12 qualifying, then hopefully have the chance to qualify once more in the Firestone Fast Six.
Once the final six cars qualify, fans will finally know the pole-sitter for the 500-mile race.
There you go with that bumping word. What’s Bump Day?
Bump Day is a part of the qualifying format. See, there is no limit to the amount of cars that can enter in the Indianapolis 500. Only 33 cars will take the grid on race day, and there are 34 entries into this year’s event. Last Chance Qualifying takes place on Sunday after the pole sitter is decided between those who qualified 30th-34th on Saturday.
Simply put, if you aren’t fast enough in your last qualifying attempt, you won't be on the grid May 28.
What is Carb Day and why is it so special?
Well, there’s more history here, and it doesn’t involve consuming massive amounts of pasta, unfortunately.
Originally known as “Carburetion Day,” this practice session was held for teams to make final adjustments to the car’s carburetor or chassis before race day. Carburetors are now long gone from the sport, but the day still stands. Shortened to “Carb Day,” this two-hour Friday practice has grown into one of the most anticipated moments of the 500 weekend. We’re talking fast cars on track, pit stop competitions, concerts and one giant party fit for fans of all ages.
Wait…we have an extra driver for the 500?
You read that right.
This year, in addition to our three full-time entries, we will also run a fourth car in the Indianapolis 500, piloted by 17-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner Tony Kanaan. What’s even more impressive? Tony Kanaan is the 2013 Indy 500 winner and 2004 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion. Be sure to look out for the No. 66 SmartStop Arrow McLaren car on track. It’s truly a beauty.
Wait again... we have two drivers who have won the 500 before?
Oh, yes. Both Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi are Indy 500 champions.
Tony’s victory came at the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2013, while Alexander’s victory in 2016 made him the first American rookie to win the 500 since 1928.
Is it true they all finished back-to-back-to-back-to-back in the top five last year?
As wild as it may sound, yes!
Our current Arrow McLaren driver lineup finished last year’s race with Pato O’Ward as runner-up in second, Tony in third, Felix Rosenqvist in fourth and Alexander in fifth. We promise it’s true – look it up!
What’s the story behind this year’s Indy 500 liveries?
In celebration of McLaren Racing’s 60th anniversary, all four cars will run special liveries at the Indy 500, commemorating McLaren’s historic Triple Crown accomplishment.
Want to know more? Be sure to check out this 'What is the Triple Crown?’ web article and relive our digital reveal for a closer look at these stunning Triple Crown-inspired liveries.
What if it rains?
For superspeedways like the IMS, if there is even a sprinkle of rain on track, the cars will not run. It’s daring enough to run at speeds over 220 mph, even a bit of water in the corner will cause the cars to lose traction and well… not the end result any team would want.
So, if it rains on a practice day, the jet-engine dryers come out. It could take up to2 hours for the oval to completely dry and be safe enough to drive on.
What’s the atmosphere like on race day?
Indescribable. It’s the sound of over 250,000-plus yelling fans (in the grandstands alone, not including the 100,000 additional in the infield), giving teams, drivers and the fans themselves goosebumps. It’s a wave of cheers so loud the drivers can hear over the cars as they pass the grandstands in each turn.
You can’t exactly put it into words without experiencing this thrill in person.
How can you tune in?
Now, this is where it gets a little tricky. The Indianapolis 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world for a reason. People in Indiana have to buy tickets to watch the race live due to blackout zones, meaning there is no broadcast within a certain-mile radius of the racetrack. Therefore, most people in the race’s home state spend the day listening to the INDYCAR Radio Network, painting the best picture of the race before it is shown on TV tape delayed on Sunday evening.
BUT, great news for our out of state and international fans; You can watch the whole race on NBC, UNIVERSO and Peacock. If your country doesn’t have any of the listed channels, tune into Sirius XM or the INDYCAR Radio Network to catch all the action.
Or even better, watch it all in person.
See the Greatest Spectacle in Racing today.
Now, make sure you’re following the team throughout the month of May on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to join in on all the exciting Indianapolis 500 coverage and we’ll see you on May 28!