When Formula One racing took on the Indy 500 29 Jun 2006
Indianapolis has long been one of the most important spiritual homes for motorsport in the USA. But Formula One racing's involvement at the Brickyard dramatically predates the creation of the current circuit - in the 1960s it helped pave the way for one of the greatest transformations in American racing.
In the early 1960s the contrast between the ways that America and the rest of the world raced were quite marked. Several drivers from the USA competed in Formula One racing with plenty of success, but back home events like the Indianapolis 500 were still contested by big, front-engined cars of the sort that had already been forced out of Formula One racing by the arrival of the rear/mid-mounted engine.
However, with a rich prize fund and the chance to showcase their talents in front of a vast crowd, Europeans were increasingly drawn to the Indy 500, transforming it in the process. In 1961, Formula One constructor Jack Brabham paved the way by entering what was basically a modified Cooper Formula One chassis with an overbored Coventry Climax engine. Driven by Brabham himself, the car managed a decent result - ending up in ninth place. But it was running on tyres ill-suited to Indianapolis's banked track and needed to make over twice the number of pit stops of the leading cars. The intrinsic pace of the rear-engined car was obvious, though - and other Europeans were taking note.
Foremost among these was Colin Chapman, boss of Lotus. Already a successful Formula One constructor, Chapman was keen to expand his activities into other areas of racing. In 1963 Lotus made the long trip to the Indy 500 with two cars, driven by Jim Clark and Dan Gurney. Again, the car was basically a modified Formula One chassis, this time fitted with a mighty Ford-sourced V8 engine. Clark was forced to take a Rookie test to prove that he could handle the high-speed banked oval - his multiple world championship points in Formula One racing adjudged insufficient evidence by the race organisers. He passed, and strong qualifying performances from both the Lotus 29s soon quietened most of the remaining doubters.
As the race began, it became clear to the 250,000-strong crowd that they were watching history in the making, as the diminutive rear-engined Lotuses quickly powered their way through to the front of the field. If it hadn't been for slow pit stops then the British team may well have taken victory. But even with longer stops than their opponents, it was still an impressive performance, with Clarks the next car over the finish line after that of eventual winner Parnelli Jones.
The following year Lotus were back, although disintegrating tyres put paid to their race. But rear-engined design had caught on in a big way, with American constructors rushing to adopt it en mass. It was 1965 before Lotus's efforts paid off, with Clark pretty much leading the race from beginning to end thanks to a combination of Ford V8 power and better-designed tyres. By the time he reached the flag, Clark was two minutes ahead of his nearest rival - Parnelli Jones, who had pipped him for victory two years earlier. He was the first non-American born driver to win the race in nearly 20 years.