IPS: IRL: Barnhart keen on roadracing

The Indy Racing League makes its first right turns this Friday, when practice for race ...

The Indy Racing League makes its first right turns this Friday, when practice for race #3 in a 17-event tenth anniversary season takes place on the 1.8-mile, 14-corner Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street circuit.

It's a departure for a series that has, until now been based solely on oval competition. The League tabulated a total of 17,824 left turns to Friday's start of practice. To make the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - and the other two road races on the IndyCar Series docket - more interesting for teams, drivers, sponsors and promoters, the League has instigated new qualifying procedures.

"We want to give value to each session at this street course and the two road courses we'll run in the 2005 season," said Brian Barnhart, president and CEO of the Indy Racing League. To that extent, all 22 entries will practice for two hours on Friday morning and results from that practice will designate who runs where in afternoon split practices.

With slower drivers practicing one-half hour together in the Friday afternoon session and faster drivers taking laps at St. Pete together afterwards, the League will allow those "performances to determine the qualifying order," according to Barnhart.

"We'll combine the best laps for all 22 to come up with the qualifying order and, one hour before single car qualifying, the fastest driver can determine whether he or she wishes to go first or last" in single-car timed laps. Drivers will have only one timed lap to set a quick speed at that time and positions 7-22 will be set following single-car qualifying of one warm-up, one timed and one cool-down lap.

After being impounded following their timed tours, the fastest six drivers will have a ten-minute period to change tires - they'll get an extra set from series supplier Firestone - as well as make any spring, shock, wing adjustments prior to a ten-minute shootout that will decide who starts in which order, first through sixth.

Barnhart will have Race Control release the six quickest drivers one by one, with the fastest driver having a bit more track time on the short St. Petersburg street course than he or she might have at Infineon Raceway or Watkins Glen International, both of which are far longer than the 1.8-mile track they'll contest this weekend. "They'll have multiple laps in which to come up with the fastest speed.

"We came up with this idea after discussing it - as we normally do - with our teams, drivers, sponsors and promoters," Barnhart said. "We wanted to increase the entertainment factor while still looking to our drivers' needs and our teams' cost factors in running these extra laps. I thought we came up with something unique with increased challenges for all."

Barnhart thinks the opportunity to race on the city streets and airfield in St. Petersburg is "historically one of the bigger moments in our history. It's certainly a departure from the past nine years but this race exposes us to new fan bases and that's a very positive step for us.

"Road and street racing is something our teams, drivers, sponsors and promoters wanted and we'll embrace this expanded opportunity. In the late 1990s, some state-of-the-art oval facilities were being built and that was very good for the Indy Racing League," Barnhart continued.

"Now we'll take our first right turn and I'm very excited about the growth of this series. This [race] does nothing but enhance our schedule. We have to be careful how we embrace road and street courses in the future," he said. "We have to go where we have the best opportunity to be successful.

"Now that we have cars that are capable of racing on road and street circuits," Barnhart cautioned, "we can expand for the future. We have interest from others circuits in our United States base and also from Canada. By road racing, we can be more flexible in our scheduling and move into markets with more people."

Racing in Florida and Arizona during the spring months is a no-brainer, Barnhart admitted. "We are taking advantage of these warm weather markets and that's a prime factor in our scheduling." Another is the close of baseball's spring training, making the facilities at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg available for the Indy Racing League to use as the Major League Baseball season gets underway.

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Series IndyCar , Indy Lights
Drivers Brian Barnhart