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Monday, March 8, 2021

New qualifying format looks to add spice

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The Izod IndyCar Series is constantly looking for ways to increase fan interest as well as challenging the drivers.

Their new qualifying format may just do that and then some, as depending on whom you ask it has the potential to be a home run or a disaster, which is common when you change tradition.

The top nine qualification times of Pole Day will be erased at 4:30 p.m., and all of the drivers will be required to make an attempt at the pole again in a special shootout session, which will last until 6 p.m. During this 90-minute period, each driver may also receive a second opportunity to improve their position (time permitting) in an attempt to reset the pole position as many times as possible in what could be a wild scramble to win the pole and all that goes along with it.

While this new format is the brainchild of Brian Barnhart, the president of competition and operations, he does not have a majority approval of this “dash for the cash,” as I found out when gathering the opinion of various drivers in the series.

“I do not feel messing with the tradition of this wonderful event is warranted,” stated 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. “Some things should just be left alone as they are.”

Surprisingly, Wheldon was the only driver who would speak on the record, but the consensus of those who spoke off the record was one that signified little faith in the format having any real impact on the usual suspects vying for the pole.

Translation: It will not help them beat Team Penske or Team Target Ganassi, so really it will have no real impact on most teams.

Many felt the risk of crashing a car while attempting to improve your position from ninth to third was too risky, as they can achieve that improved track position with a good first pit stop during the course of the race. While it should be noted that all nine of the top qualifiers would be guaranteed a starting position in the first three rows, regardless of their performance in the special shootout session, the cost of repairing or replacing a race car could undoubtedly exceed any monies awarded.

Despite that, every driver I spoke to admitted that the purse paid for the pole along with the bragging rites and goodwill for their respective sponsors, certainly makes the risk one worth contemplating.

Notes: The Peak Performance Pole Award will pay the winner a robust $175,000, an increase of $75,000 over last year. Second place will pay $75,000 and third place pays $50,000.

Paul Tracy, who in my opinion won the contested 2002 Indy 500, is back again this year with KV Racing and sponsorship from Geico. P.T. has dropped some 25 pounds from his frame and looks lean and mean. If his car is up to it, Tracy could win it all.

Hall of Famer Bill York was back in the IMS media world this past week coordinating the rookie orientation program.

Affectionately known as the Godfather to me, it was only proper to see him back where his legendary status was developed. Welcome back, Mr. York, as many people have missed you.

Indy 500 pole qualifications will begin at 11a.m. on May 22, and conclude that day at 6 p.m. The balance of the field will be filled the following day from noon until six.

Danny Bridges, who will spend his 51st birthday at IMS on the final day of qualifications May 23, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.

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