a red and white logo with a white background

A Beginner's Guide to the Indianapolis 500

Track Talk
Read the latest F1 news from around the web
Download the app

The Indianapolis 500 is two weeks of racing, totaling hundreds of miles driven, and thousands of fans in attendance, but how does the Indy 500 actually work?

FanAmp Partner, Track Talk's Emma Novak, has you covered! Let's break down the Indianapolis 500 and some important tips if you're attending this year!

Imagine driving 230 MPH down one of the straights of a 2.5 mile oval track, knowing that you have less than a second to make a millimeter-perfect left turn, avoiding the wall and the drivers only inches from you... and if you succeed, you only have to do that perfect lap 199 more times. 

Indy Motor Speedway

Imagine yourself as one of the 250,000 spectators at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, feeling the drivers' adrenaline coursing through the air. The suspense of every turn, every pit stop, every near miss of the wall cascades in waves over the track to the grandstands.

Take a breath and take it all in. 

Welcome to the Indy 500.

Indianapolis 500 - Race Day - 2011 | - May 29 174 | momentcaptured1 | Flickr

What does the schedule look like?

Much like any IndyCar race, we have practice sessions, qualifying, and then the race itself. However the Indy 500 is not like other races... There’s a reason why it’s referred to as the 'Greatest spectacle in racing", and why the fifth month of the year isn’t just ‘May’ anymore - but an event and countdown all in one, referred to as ‘The Month of May’. 

The Indy 500 practices start well in advance of the spectacle itself. From May 14th to May 17th, drivers and teams will take to the first oval of the season - not just any oval but the oval - to tease what we may be seeing on the prestigious Sunday. From 12pm to 6pm, drivers and teams will practice at IMS, with the exception of Tuesday’s practice starting at 9am. Gates open early all week, giving fans the chance to explore IMS before the excitement of Qualifying weekend.

Fast Friday is a tradition of its own and exactly what it sounds like. All day, the teams get an additional 90bhp of boosts during practice, mimicking the power and speed they can reach during Qualifying. Friday is also when teams make any last minute adjustments to their set up now they see what they’re really working with for the next two days. 


Typically, the field consists of 27 cars but the Indy 500 brings in one-off entries or additional entries in teams we’re already familiar with. This year we’ll see 34 drivers total take to the oval. Following the last practice session, a blind draw takes place for Saturday’s qualifying. Everything is left up to fate as the 34 driver's draw numbers to see when they can hit the track the next day. Unlike typical road and street courses where the last driver to cross the line has an advantage thanks to track conditions, when it comes to Indy 500, the worst spot to be on Quali Day 1 is at the back of the pack. 


Come Saturday, each driver will take to the oval in the order that was decided the night before. After a single warm up lap, they have four laps to produce to their fastest speeds around the 2.5 mile track. The average speed, not time, of their four laps is what determines their place on the grid

Once every car in the 34-entry field has set their lap average, the rest of the allotted Qualifying time is used for drivers to improve on what they’ve already done. But it’s not as simple as just hitting the track again.

Drivers have a choice between lining up in Lane 1 or Lane 2. 

Lane 1:

Drivers in Lane 1 are given priority and will take to the track before anyone in Lane 2. However, by choosing Lane 1, they have decided to forfeit their position on the grid, sacrificing their best time. If they do better than their original run, mission accomplished. If they do worse, unfortunately they have a new position on the starting line up and can either choose a redo in Lane 1 or wait in Lane 2.

Lane 2:

The Safe Lane. Typically longer than Lane 1, those who wait in the second line have the same chance to go again, one at a time, to try and find better speed around the oval. They can only start once Lane 1 has completely emptied out. Again, if they succeed, they move up in positions. If they fail to produce a faster time, there’s no need for them to worry as they can keep their original lap time that they achieved during the first run. Nothing to lose, only something to gain.  

That Saturday sets the slots for positions 13-30. The top 12 will move on to the second day of qualifying, fighting for the coveted pole position or at least the front row. The bottom four, drivers 31-34, will battle it out on the dreaded ‘bump day’, and one of them will not make it to the 108th running of the Indy 500. 


Indianapolis 500 Connor Daly Qualifying

Sunday starts off with the top twelve drivers fighting to make it to the last stage. One practice lap is followed by the average of the four following laps. While the top positions are enough excitement for one day, the real suspense lies with the four drivers all vying for the last three spots on the grid. When they’re time is up, one will say goodbye to their chance at running in the 500 and we move onto the last stage of qualifying, The Firestone Fast Six. Those to six positions are finally decided and then we have our official starting grid of 33 cars for the 108th Indy 500 at IMS. 

Race Week

Friday - Carb Day

While there is only one practice session on Monday following Qualifying and a few hours on Friday, there is still plenty of excitement during that week. Friday is Miller Lite Carb Day. Along with being able to watch the last practice session, you’ll also be able to watch each team participate in the Pit Stop Challenge. Remember, it’s not all about the drivers. Since 1977, the ongoing tradition is something you don’t want to miss.

Saturday - Legends Day

The Saturday before the race is known as Legends Day. Gates open early for fans to line up for a full field autograph session. All 33 drivers participating in the race will be ready to smile and sign pictures for those who have come near and far to support them. Following the autographs, stick around for the Public Drivers Meeting where the drivers will receive their final instructions before the Indy 500. 

During the week, keep your eyes peeled on social media. Many drivers and teams will announce meetups, pops up and events that you can attend outside of IMS, usually for free! The IndyCar app is also a great place to check out the livery for your favorite drivers as they often do a change-up for Month of May.

Sunday - The Indianapolis 500

Shockingly, this is the easiest day to comprehend out of the two weeks of the Indianapolis 500. This is one of the toughest competitions that any professional racing driver can endure... Let's remember that with no power steering .... more than one F1 driver has come to test an Indycar and called the drivers crazy because their cars are so difficult to drive.

If you're attending, you're watching a tradition of well over 100 years - enjoy it. Make friends. Make memories.

And remember - whoever wins gets drenched in milk!

What should fans know if attending the Indianapolis 500?

Expect the unexpected.

Weather is unpredictable...

  1. The sun may shine
  2. It may rain
  3. Both may happen on the same day
    1. Or within 5 minutes of each other...

Make sure you pack your essentials

  1. Sunscreen
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Hat with a brim
  4. Plastic or disposable rain ponchos
  5. Hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs

Pro - tips for the track


How can I watch the Indianapolis 500 at home?

Peacock will be streaming the race in America! "Indy 500 practices, including Carb Day, and full-field qualifying will be streamed on Peacock. The pole shootout on May 19 will be televised on NBC. Race coverage May 26 begins with pre-race action on NBC, Peacock and Universo at 11 a.m."

This race is unlike any other. Driver, David Malukas, has compared the feeling of race day to the opening scene in Disney’s Cars... Welcome to the Indianapolis 500

Before we go... If you want to chat all things Indianapolis 500 with other IndyCar Fans, join Track Talk on FanAmp! They'll be sharing ALL the BTS of the Indy 500 this year and you DON'T want to miss it!

Read all the latest Formula 1 news from around the web in the app
Download the app

Related Articles