The lure of the Brickyard

by Peter Higham on 12th April 2017

When F1 drivers go to Indy

Fernando Alonso’s announcement that he will miss the Monaco Grand Prix to race at Indianapolis may be a shock in the modern context but it was commonplace during the 1960s when the prize money on offer at the Brickyard outweighed Formula 1 remuneration. Many of Formula 1's big names have raced at the Brickyard, but only a few have done it while they were competing in F1. 

1950s: Ascari

The first F1 regular to miss a race to compete at Indy was Alberto Ascari who forsook the opening race of the 1952 World Championship in Switzerland. At Indianapolis, he qualified a V12 Ferrari 375 in 19th position and had climbed to eighth when he lost a wheel in Turn Four. His absence from the Swiss GP had little effect on the championship for he won the six remaining races to become world champion for the first time.

Giuseppe Farina entered the 1956 race, after he had retired from F1, but did not qualify a Ferrari-powered Kurtis KK500D. Soon-to-retire Juan Manuel Fangio practised for the race two years later but a qualifying attempt was prevented by conflicting fuel contracts.

1960s and ‘70s: Brabham, Gurney, Clark, Stewart, Hulme, Revson, Rindt and Regazzoni 

Jack Brabham and the Cooper Car Company began 'The British Invasion' in 1961 by finishing ninth in the nimble rear-engine Cooper-Climax. He spent that year’s Monaco GP weekend hopping across the Atlantic and back to qualify at Indianapolis. He returned on three more occasions when driving Brabhams but did not finish as high again. Dan Gurney made the first of nine appearances in 1962 and he was crucial in persuading Lotus and Ford to enter the following year’s race. Jim Clark finished second in 1963, qualified on pole position in 1964 and famously won the race in 1965 (missing Monaco to do so) after leading 190 of the 200 laps.

Original report: Jim Clark wins the 1965 Indianapolis 500

There were four current F1 drivers on the grid in 1966 – Gurney an early retirement, Jackie Stewart  – who won Rookie of the Year after dominating until the closing laps – Graham Hill (another rookie) and Clark 1-2 at the finish. Denny Hulme won the 1967 rookie title and Gurney missed the 1968 Spanish GP to qualify at Indy. The American finished second in 1968 and 1969 and third on his last start in 1970. Jochen Rindt retired from his two Indy 500s and McLaren star Peter Revson, who was second in the 1971 Indy 500, missed the following year’s Monaco GP to race at Indianapolis. Clay Regazzoni took time out of his F1 season with Ensign to qualify a Theodore Racing McLaren-Offenhauser in 1977 although he retired after 25 laps.

1980s: Fabi

Teo Fabi qualified on pole position on his first visit to Indianapolis in 1983 and he attempted to combine an F1 and Champ Car season a year later. Two years earlier Mario Andretti finished as runner-up with Patrick Racing. 

Other big names that have raced at Indy outside of their F1 careers include Nigel Mansell who came third in 1993 but was crashed into by Dennis Vitolo a year later, just five weeks before he returned to Grand Prix racing. Nelson Piquet also made his Indianapolis debut in 1993, a year after suffering severe leg injuries when he crashed during practice. Rubens Barrichello won the rookie title in 2012 while Jean Alesi’s short race that year was hindered by the recalcitrant Lotus engine.

Of the numerous drivers to have raced at Indianapolis after finishing their F1 career, Danny Sullivan (1985), Bobby Rahal (if you can call two GPs a career, 1986), Emerson Fittipaldi (1989, 1993), Eddie Cheever (1998), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000 before racing in F1 and again in 2015) and Alexander Rossi (2016) and all went on to win the Indy 500.

Gallery: F1 drivers at Indy

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