Tony George, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League warned there might be changes to the venerable Month of May in 2005 and today those alterations became official.
During a press conference at the Brickyard 2.5-mile oval this morning George declared many modifications to the schedule of the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, set to take place on May 29th, 2005.
While the Indy 500 schedule will continue to encompass a full three weeks of practice, qualifying and racing, the start times and dates for specific parts of the Month of May will change next year.
Opening days of practice for next year's Greatest Spectacle in Racing begins on May 8 and continues on the following day, May 9. Those two practice days will run from noon to 5PM EST, knocking a couple of hours off the proceedings. Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) will return to the first two days of practice, thereby placing rookies on the historic Brickyard oval during the Month of May, rather than late April, which conflicts with Indy Racing League IndyCar Series scheduling.
Indeed, practice days will now run for one hour less in preparation for the big race, in order to reduce costs over the three-week span for competitors. Therefore, all practice dates will span noon-6PM, giving teams a slight reduction in costs for the month.
There will be a full four days of qualification runs at the 89th Indy 500 next year, as the IndyCar Series competitors will vie for MBNA Pole on Saturday, May 14, filling positions one through 11 on the first day of time trials. Once the 11 spots are full, bumping will occur for the balance of the day to determine MBNA Pole and the fastest 11 for that one day.
The second day of qualifying on Sunday, May 15 will set positions 12 through 22 and, once those slots are full, the rest of the day will determine the fastest 11 qualifiers for that day, giving competitors an opportunity to improve their starting spots.
The third day of qualifying, as the Speedway returns to the traditional four days of time trials is set for Saturday, May 21st to full positions 23- 33. Once those spots are filled, bumping will occur only in slots 23-33 for the rest of the day to determine the fastest 11 qualifiers for that one day.
The ritual of Bump Day will be held on May 22nd this year. "Any qualifying attempt on the fourth day that is faster than a qualified entrant in the 33 positions," the Speedway noted, "will bump the slowest qualifier from the field regardless of the day of qualification. "The bumped entrant will be removed from the field of 33 and the remaining field moves ahead one position as the newly qualified entrants takes the traditional slot at the rear of the field - or a higher position if faster than the other fourth- day qualifiers."
The Bump Day tradition, then, will actually comprise all four days with potential for cars being bumped out of the starting field by faster entries on each of the four days of qualifying. "We think this new format is exciting for everyone involved," noted George. "It will provide even more drama and competition each day."
As has been customary throughout the 88 previous runnings of this seminal, historic event, entrants will still be able to withdraw qualified cars at their choice, but that car still will be allowed to make qualifying attempts based on the number of attempts it has remaining for the day. The car does not have to be moved from competition, as has been the case in previous Indy 500 formats.
When the Indianapolis 500 first ran in 1911, the lineup was determined by entry receipt dates, not time trials. "We're confident this new system honors the tradition of four days of qualifying at Indy while introducing some new elements to the event," George stated.
While there will be quite a few changes to the qualifying format, one thing still holds true: drivers must contest four laps, ten miles to gain a qualifying slot. With three attempts on each qualifying day, however, teams are eligible to make up to 12 attempts to gain entry to the field of 33 which has not been eliminated from the new format.
An interesting scenario could be presented if all 33 spots are filled prior to the requisite Bump Day. If all spots are filled and there are no added entries, there will be no bumping on May 22nd; rather, parts of the day would be taken by regular practice. If it rains on Bump Day and the field is not full, IMS and IRL officials will "work together to determine the amount of qualifying time provided to teams on the next available day," the League stated.
If the requisite 11 spots aren't filled each day, for whatever reason, those slots would be added to the next day's qualifying and could be contested throughout the following day's activities. The best part of this new regulation is the availability of three qualifying attempts each day, allowing teams who might have had difficulties in practice or qualifying another chance to make the field for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Regardless of when a car and driver qualify they can be bumped by a faster entry. No positions will be safe.
"While making the schedule for the 2005 Indianapolis 500," Tony George explained, "We've listened to competitors, fans and community leaders because we know how important the Month of May is to them for so many reasons. Our goal is to provide a schedule that balances the best interests of each party and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway while maintaining traditions of the event and the exciting buildup to Race Day during the entire month>
In keeping with these ideologies the newest tradition in Indy 500 lore, the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Futaba Freedom 100 will be held on Miller Lite Carburetion Day next year which, itself is being moved from the Thursday prior to the Big Race to Friday. The rationale for the Carb Day change is simple: that particular date has become one of the more popular ones for fans during the Month of May.
Just as the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is the jewel in the IndyCar Series schedule, the Futaba Freedom 100 is the marquee event for the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. By placing the competition on Carburetion Day, Friday May 27th, the League believes more people will be on hand to see the exciting battle for the first checkered flag of the meeting.
"The addition of the Futaba Freedom 100 to the Carb Day schedule is very exciting," stated Roger Bailey, executive director of the Pro series. "Combining the race with other Carb Day activities will allow our young, up- and-coming drivers to showcase their skills before a large crowd at the premier racing venue in the world."
The balance of Miller Lite Carburetion Day activities include the traditional final IndyCar Series practice, the Checkers/Rally's Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge and the Miller Lite Carb Day Concert, three events that have brought out a huge crowd in recent years.
One other important change is on the docket for the 89th Indianapolis 500 and will likely make matters easier for all concerned. The start time for the race, which originally began at 10 in the morning, was moved to 11AM and will now take place at noon local time.
The new, crack of noon start time moves the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to a better time slot for national television viewers and also provides more time for the multitude of race fans to arrive at the track in Speedway, IN with sufficient lag time before they need to be in their seats for the dramatic race start. This change will likely remove hindrances to traffic patterns and enable fans and participants alike a bit more sleep-in time prior to the biggest day of the year.
While the changes to qualifications are among the more severe in recent years, the modifications are being performed to enhance competition and excitement for fans. By allowing cars three qualifying attempts each day, the League and Speedway are enabling teams opportunities they might otherwise not have had.
The alterations to Carburetion Day will add more activities to that exciting Friday and the later start for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing should ease falling television viewer ship, allowing even those on the West Coast of the United States to watch the race from start to finish.