IRL: IndyCar changes rules for road and oval races

The Indy Racing League is serious about presenting unique, entertaining qualifying sessions on its three initial forays in road and street-circuit racing during the 2005 17-race campaign. Unlike the 14 oval contests on tap for this year, the ...

The Indy Racing League is serious about presenting unique, entertaining qualifying sessions on its three initial forays in road and street-circuit racing during the 2005 17-race campaign.

Unlike the 14 oval contests on tap for this year, the League's IndyCar Series combatants will have new procedures to adjust to for road racing. Beginning with the April 3rd Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the west coast of Florida, the Indy cars will have new systems in place for practice and qualifying.

According to Brian Barnhart, president and CEO of the Indy Racing League, each road or street course weekend will begin with a Friday morning two-hour practice session for all entrants. Practice speeds will determine groupings for Friday afternoon practice, with slower cars practicing first and faster drivers in the second group.

The fastest driver overall will have the option of driving first or last in single-lap qualifying on Saturday afternoon, as Friday afternoon practice will determine the event qualifying order.

At the end of single car qualifying on Saturday the field will be set for positions seven and upwards, with the six fastest drivers having a ten minute, no-holds-barred session in which to grab the top slot.

Barnhart fully expects final qualifying, from the single-car aspect and the six-driver shootout to last about an hour, which is the amount of time currently utilized for oval-style time trials.

"We're putting this together so that each session will have meaning for the fans. They'll get to see all the cars on-circuit for the long first session that will allow plenty of changes," Barnhart allowed. "That way there's not going to be any mad panic."

With dual practices on Friday afternoons, fans will get to see their favorites trying for quick times in order to get a good qualifying slot for Saturday's push. Because the League will run shorter practices on Friday afternoons, "there won't be time for big changes," according to Barnhart.

Just like the FIA's Formula One series, single-car qualifying gives each car a solitary lap to make a quick pass around the three circuits, St. Petersburg, Infineon Sears Point and Watkins Glen International. "They'll get the green flag first time by and the checkered flag their second lap and that will be it," Barnhart acknowledged. For road course qualifying only, tire warmers are permitted.

The ten-minute shootout will follow a refueling opportunity and the six cars who merit that final track time will also be allocated an additional set of Firestone Firehawk tires that can only be used for the shootout.

Drivers will be released from the pits with ten second intervals so that each driver will have some clean air to work with. By the same token, the five drivers starting behind the quickest pilot will be hounds chasing hares. Should a driver wreck during the ten-minute contest for pole position, that driver will be relegated to sixth place on the starting grid; if another driver crashes after the first, that driver would be fifth and so on.

"We think this new format will have a lot entertaining aspects to it," Barnhart declared. "The format will allow our drivers to showcase the speed, drama and all-out competition of the IndyCar Series."

There are other different rules for the three left-right circuits the League will contest during its tenth anniversary season. For those three events, cars will add 75 pounds for a minimum weight of 1600 pounds, attributable to the brake systems and limited slip differential in the gearbox.

Rules changes for all 2005 contests, ordered in the interest of increasing safety and leveling the playing field include a mandated switch to single-point refueling systems, with two hoses coming from the storage tank and combining at the fuel mechanism handled by the fueler. The crewmember who was previously responsible for operation of the vent and jack is now free to operate only the jack, making for safer pit roads, Barnhart hopes.

The amount of fuel in trackside tanks has been changed. Teams may carry 85 gallons for races of 187.5 miles, 90 gallons for 200-mile races, 100 gallons for 225-mile events, 125 miles for 260-mile contests, 135 gallons for 300-mile races on the calendar, 175 gallons for 400-mile contests and 225 gallons for 500-milers.

During the 2004 season, the biggest black mark for the Indy Racing League was pit road incidents. Changes aren't readily available to remedy those problems other than forcing teams to realize they made mistakes or bad decisions and to correct those errors. "We explored some options," Barnhart allowed, "but decided to let the guys make better decisions."

Barnhart is considering the potential of changing the location of the air jack, but will, at this time still permit the regulation six men over the wall for all pit stops.

The changes may appear a lot to absorb prior to the start of this 17-race campaign but, as they become rote will likely seem as though they've been part and parcel of the IndyCar Series.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Brian Barnhart