INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Andretti thought he had experienced everything at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — until he strolled down pit row Thursday.
Suddenly, the 51-year-old IndyCar team owner who grew up around this historic track, who raced against his father and his son here, who led more laps than any non-race winner in Indy history, was surprised at seeing tire marks going the wrong way.
"I wondered, 'Why are they burning rubber coming into the pits.' Then I remembered," Andretti said before cracking a smile on Indy's opening day. "You sort of get used to it."
Andretti isn't alone. Everyone is adjusting to Indy's the new sights, sounds and schedules this May.
Traditionalists have already complained that it was a bad idea to run two major IndyCar races at Indianapolis in the same month, arguing the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will detract from the series' marquee event, the Indianapolis 500. Of course, they also complained when NASCAR, Formula One and MotoGP all came to the speedway, too.
But this transition will be a little tougher on everyone.
Rather than attending opening day on a weekend, there were already two rookie practices and a road-course test session before the track officially opened for practice Thursday.
Rather than watching cars race counterclockwise through four left turns on a 2.5-mile oval all month, drivers will spend the first three days running clockwise around the reconstructed 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.
Rather than seeing speeds top 225 mph, fans will deal with cars going more than 100 mph slower. Defending IndyCar champ Scott Dixon had the fastest lap Thursday in the two 45-minute practice sessions, 124.606. A year ago, Ed Carpenter's pole-winning four-lap average for the 500 was 228.762.
Qualifying for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis is scheduled for Friday with the race set for Saturday, a race that will be held even in light or moderate rain, something that should please Indy race fans who so often have to contend with long rain delays when the cars are on the oval.
That may not even be the oddest part.
"It is going to be really weird here Sunday when you get on the track and see the tire marks going the opposite direction we're driving," said Brazil's Tony Kanaan, the defending Indianapolis 500 champ who now drives for Chip Ganassi. "But it's just three days and then we have 15 days of the old way."
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