Is The Indianapolis 8 Hour Race Here For The Long Haul?

The Indy skyline in the background in a photo of the Indianapolis 8 Hour Race at the IMS
The Indianapolis 8 Hour

A World Series. In July 2019, IMS announced the addition of the Indianapolis 8 Hour to the Speedway’s 2020 calendar. It was to be the fourth of five races spanning five continents for the fledgling Intercontinental GT Challenge, an upstart sports-car series founded on the idea that manufacturers would support local teams rather than sending their own. Makers like BMW, Mercedes, Lamborghini, and Audi were to fly their drivers across the globe instead of shipping cars and tools. But as the championship started to grow, more and more manufacturers started sending everything anyway.

Stuck In Neutral. The inaugural October 2020 event ended up being one of only four races in the series because of COVID-19 (the 10-hour race in Suzuka, Japan, was canceled due to heightened restrictions for foreign entry into the country). The Indy race went on but was also impacted by the pandemic. Only 10,000 fans were allowed in the stands, and the grid was majority U.S.-based entrants—a change from previous American races, which were dominated by Europeans.

Back On Track. Despite the unprecedented circumstances, the first-ever Indy grid featured 22 cars—three more than were in the 2019 American leg of the series at Laguna Seca in California. This fact gave promoters optimism for the event’s future. The 2021 Indianapolis 8 Hour featured 41 cars, again mostly Americans.

Two For The Road. The first 8 Hour was packaged as a doubleheader race weekend with an IndyCar race on the IMS road course, the Harvest Grand Prix. The name was a throwback to the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a 1916 three-race event held to keep the Speedway afloat during America’s involvement in World War I that forced the track to shutter for two years. It was the last time a race other than the 500 was held at IMS until 1994, when NASCAR came to town for the first time.

Brand Aid. That first Brickyard 400 dropped the green flag on all sorts of year-round events at the IMS in an attempt to bring in revenue and drive the brand. Since 1994, the Speedway has hosted Formula One, MotoGP motorcycles, an IndyCar road race, vintage-car racing, Red Bull Air Race airplanes, and even autonomous cars. All of them except the hometown IndyCars and the vintage cars have come and gone.

Pump The Brakes. In 2021, after years of declining attendance, even NASCAR decided to scale back. After 27 years running stock cars on the hallowed 2.5-mile oval, officials moved to a 14-turn infield road course. The inaugural Verizon 200 at the Brickyard was marred by curbing issues on a chicane in Turns 5 and 6 that resulted in two red flags and other delays to clean up debris. Nevertheless, track and series reps said they did not foresee that race returning to its rounder 400-mile format anytime soon. And due to that damaged curb, the 2021 8 Hour had to be run without the chicane, on a course similar to the old one used by Formula One.

Roger And Out? Track owner Roger Penske bought the Speedway about four months after the first 8 Hour was announced in 2019. Penske has frequently mentioned that the deal preceded his tenure when discussing the future of the race with media, and he appears to instead have his sights set on a bigger sports-car series coming to Indianapolis. “When we think of a sports-car event, we would think of a proper IMSA race weekend, with different classes like you’d see at Sebring or Daytona,” Penske told The Indianapolis Star, referring to the International Motor Sports Association, which runs premier sports-car endurance races like the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Petit Le Mans. “That’s something that would be high on our list.”