Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Tech Europeans Visit Indy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High-Tech Europeans Visit Indy

Article excerpt

It might look like a culture clash when European-style racing comes to Indianapolis's famous Speedway this weekend: Ascot meets blue collar. The knights of road racing duking it out at the Brickyard.

The two continents even race in opposite directions: counterclockwise in America, clockwise (mostly) in Europe.

Nevertheless, this Sunday will mark the third annual running of the United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis, the only Formula One race in the country. With it ride the hopes of racing organizers and fans on both sides of the Atlantic. If they can find the right fit, Formula One and Indy-style racing might not clash at all. They might forge an alliance as mutually beneficial as, well, French fries and ketchup.

To the casual observer, a Formula One car looks similar to an Indy car. Both are open-wheeled. But underneath the hood, the European cars are far more advanced, using cutting-edge technology. Top Indy teams might spend $30 million a year to compete; Formula One teams can spend 10 times that.

Drivers have long bounced between the Formula One and Indy cars. The challenge now is finding American fans willing to see what the other style of racers are doing.

"Make no mistake," says Kevin Forbes, while whizzing through a white-knuckle lap of the Formula One track he designed for Indianapolis. "We are not in the racing business. We're in the entertainment business. We sell tickets."

Formula One would like nothing better than to hook fans in America, the world's richest corporate market. Despite wide appeal on other continents, advanced technology, and solid overseas corporate support, Formula One racing has made little impact in the US. After several abortive attempts to hold races, Formula One gave up on America until 2000, when Indianapolis stepped forward. In its first year, the grand prix race here attracted a surprising 100,000 fans. This year, organizers are hoping for 150,000 - a respectable crowd but barely filling half the seats of the huge Speedway that hosts the Indianapolis 500 each May.

"Formula One certainly has some work to do to become as successful as it would like to be in the United States," says Jeremy Burne, North American director of Britain's Motorsport Industry Association. "While the rest of the world is watching soccer [or Formula One], America is watching something else."

And when football, baseball, and basketball fans make the switch to motor racing, they're far more likely to watch NASCAR's popular stock-car circuit than Formula One or Indy racing. It doesn't help that Americans have to get up early in the morning to catch live TV coverage of a Formula One race in Europe.

Another drawback: The lack of American drivers to root for in Formula One. Toward that end, former Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan has teamed up with energy-drink maker Red Bull to find drivers. …

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