The 104th Indianapolis 500, scheduled for May 24, will have a different look than those that preceded it. This is thanks to this year’s ownership and management change that brought Penske Entertainment and its core leader, Roger Penske, to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more than his team’s seemingly regular collection of winner’s Baby BorgWarner trophies.
Roger Penske, the most successful team owner in Indy 500 history, whose driver Simon Pagenaud ran the table in 2019 by winning both pole positions and both races held during the 2019 month of May, knows the Speedway inside and out. Last fall, when he announced his company would purchase IMS, the NTT IndyCar Series and IMS Productions, Penske undertook a walking tour of the vast facility to get an idea of where to start with renovations and how to improve facilities.
One thing Penske is doing for which participants and fans have been hankering is increasing the purse of the Indianapolis 500. It isn’t a huge bump, but it’s a start, as an additional $2 million ups the overall purse to more than $15 million for the 33 qualified drivers and their teams. The purse needs to climb further – perhaps the infusion of added sponsorship Penske Entertainment is bringing might bring that about in 2021?
The NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway add six new major sponsors for 2020. Some of them are generic to Penske’s team and offer their support to the balance of the paddock: Pennzoil, Verizon, Snap-on Tools, DEX Imaging and Road & Track magazine, together with Global Medical Response (GMR), are making significant investments in both the INDYCAR series and the Brickyard location.
In addition, Penske Entertainment touts changes to Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend, scheduled for May 16-17. The popular Last Row Shootout, for the final three participants in the field of 33, will expand to 75 minutes, where previously teams on the bubble had a single attempt per car. This change should add fan-desired drama as drivers try to take one of those valued three final grid spots.
In another instance of change, a boost in turbocharger level will see speeds reach ever higher in 2020 during qualifying (and on Fast Friday). Turbocharger boost should increase horsepower by 45 BHP in 2020 from 2019 levels.
Penske Entertainment is negotiating an uptick in total NBC coverage of qualifying this year that should see both Saturday and Sunday network exposure increasing over 2019. The details of that change should be released in the near future.
IMS’ Victory Podium will change this year, with the winning driver and team of all major races, GMR Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400, having their car elevated to the same level as the Victory Podium following each race. While it’s been possible to use this elevated podium for quite some time, it’s not been fully utilized until now. This change will give fans a better vantage point to see the excitement of the winners, get pictures and use social media sharing of the most prestigious Victory Lane in global motorsports.
Although the Hulman-George families, who owned and managed the entities sold to Penske Entertainment, put some big investments in Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the 100th Indy 500 race in 2016, Penske Entertainment is taking it up more than a notch. Pedestrian traffic on Georgetown Road will increase to two lanes and new pavement will be added to the Parcel B lot near the main entrance, providing a cleaner look. There will be an additional 30 large-screen video boards, a 100-foot-wide video wall facing Pagoda Plaza in the infield and renovations to more than 125 restrooms at the facility. Verizon’s 5G network will aid in the technology transformation at the iconic Brickyard racetrack; not only will fans enjoy faster connectivity, but the addition of 5G should aid track operations.
Night-visible signage is being installed over Gates 1 and 2, while IMS assumes responsibility for the Crawfordsville Road beautification project adjacent to the Speedway. There will be fresh paint, new signage and more than 50 concession stands inside IMS will gain new signs (and possibly menus). Look for the placement of more than 230 racing-themed flags around IMS and along Crawfordsville Road.
All aspects of these facility investments in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s fan experience are underway already. They will be completed before the Brickyard’s gates open for the long-anticipated Month of May on Friday, May 8.