The IndyCar Series returns to its namesake venue for the 94th Greatest Spectacle in Racing on Sunday, May 30 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Changes in leadership at IndyCar and IMS have led to a significant alteration of the traditional month-of-May practice and qualifying dates. Among the most interesting changes is the contraction of qualifying into a single weekend and a new late-day shootout for the pole position.
Here is how it works: twenty-four positions in the field of thirty-three will be earned on the first day of qualifying on Saturday, May 22. All cars intent on making a run for the inside spot on the front row will have their shot from 11:00 AM EDT until 4:00 PM on Pole Day.
Things will break from tradition at that time, when the fastest nine cars and drivers must return to the track and re-qualify. The quickest car and driver, over a 90-minute session that begins at 4:30 PM EDT, gets the $175,000 prize for fastest and the pole position for the race.
Second- and third-place qualifiers earn, for the first time, pole-day prize money: $75,000 and $50,000 respectively. The fastest nine qualifiers on Saturday earn IndyCar Series championship points too.
"The rewards of the qualifying format help to make the Indianapolis 500 the most important race on the IndyCar Series schedule," said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for the Indy Racing League. "Teams and drivers in the shootout will have to make a decision after their initial run in the re-qualifying segment whether they want to attempt to move up on the grid with another attempt."
"Not only would they potentially have a higher starting position," he said, "but they would accumulate more bonus points that could come into play later in the season in the driver championship."
Bump Day follows hard on the heels of Pole Day on Sunday, May 23. With entries for the 500-mile race now standing at forty, representing seventy-five cars, there should be plenty of excitement as sixteen hopefuls try to shoehorn into only nine spots.
The long-standing rule of a maximum of three attempts per car to qualify remains the same. If inclement weather prevents the 90-minute shootout on Pole Day, the times from the initial Saturday session will determine starting positions and the pole.
"This new format for Indianapolis 500 qualifying will deliver even more action and intensity for fans," said Jeff Belskus, president and chief executive officer of IMS. "Drivers will go all out during the first session on Pole Day to get a chance to make a run for the pole. Then they'll need to dig even deeper to find the speed for the pole in the last 90 minutes."
"Plus," he continued, "there still will be plenty of spots up for grabs on Bump Day, with all of the dramatic, last-minute bumping that generations of fans have loved about Indy. This is going to be a fantastic weekend of qualifying. I can't wait to see it unfold."
Practice at Indianapolis commences on Saturday, May 15 with rookie orientation expected to last two days. The seasoned Indy 500 drivers begin their preparations on Monday, May 17. Tickets for practice days are a big-time bargain at a mere $5 per person for a full day at IMS.
The final day of practice, Carb Day, occurs on Friday, May 28. Tickets for both qualifying days and Carb Day are still a bargain $10 per person. Especially so on Carb Day when the Indy Lights Series Freedom 100, the Pit Stop competition and a concert by ZZ Top are thrown in to boot.