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Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 08:45
The Indy 500 is, simply, the superbowl of racing. It’s Monaco, Le Mans and Daytona rolled into one. Pageantry, tradition, speed and danger, it’s a defining challenge for every driver and car maker who comes here.

Indy 500 logo 2012A yard of the original bricks that comprised the surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it was built in 1909 still pave the start/finish line. That’s why it’s nicknamed The Brickyard, and the shadow of its legend stretches across all the men who have drunk the victory milk; a curious tradition in itself.

The likes of AJ Foyt, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Bobby and Al Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti and, most recently, the late Dan Wheldon became household names in America and across the world by taking the chequered flag in this race. A few of those names are Lotus royalty. Jim Clark is particularly notable, for he won the 1965 Indianapolis 500 in the green and yellow Lotus 38. It was the first time a mid-engined car had won the 500, and this far-sighted innovation by Colin Chapman shaped the layout of every IndyCar since.

Between 1950 and 1960, the 500-mile 200 lap marathon was classed as a part of the Formula One World Championship, and once that stopped many European drivers and F1 teams continued to come to America to do battle at the celebrated oval. This year, there are three former F1 drivers in the field and one of them is powered by Lotus.

Grand Prix winner and Lotus ambassador Jean Alesi will attempt the 500 for the first time at the wheel of the black-and-gold Lotus-engined No.64 Fan Force United car, sponsored by F.P.Journe. Until two weeks before the race, Alesi had never driven on an oval or sampled an IndyCar. Fan Force United are new to the 500 too, having stepped up from the junior Indy Lights series.

Alesi is working hard to learn the ropes in a very short space of time. He’s been assimilating as much information as possible both in and out of the car, and downloading the knowledge and advice of his team’s experienced crew, which includes 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier. It’s a steep learning curve for everyone involved. This is the first time Lotus has attended the 500 with its own engine.

The Frenchman will become one of very few drivers to have contested the ‘Triple Crown’ during their career: the Monaco Grand Prix, the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the Indianapolis 500. Graham Hill, Formula One World Champion with Lotus in 1968, is the only man in history to have won all three of these prestigious races.

IZOD IndyCar Series regular Simona di Silvestro is the second Lotus driver on the grid, powering her No.78 HVM Racing machine.

Four hundred thousand people are expected to pack the stands.

Simona de Silvestro, Indycar, HVM Racing, helmet
Simona de Silvestro, No. 78, Lotus HVM Racing
Jean Alesi, Indycar, Indy500, helmet
Jean Alesi, No. 64, Fan Force United

Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Circuit length: 2.5-mile street course

Turns: 4 (1/4 mile)

Straightaway width: 50 feet

Turn width: 60 feet

Banking of turns: 9 degrees, 12 minutes

Laps: 200

Miles: 500 miles

2011 Indy 500 Champion: Dan Wheldon

The Indy 500 will be televised by ABC at 11a.m. (ET) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (XM 94 and Sirius 212).