Qualifying changes won’t help the Indy 500

In part of Mark Miles’ changes for IndyCar, he is looking to revamp qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

The current format is two day qualifying with positions 1-24 being filled on the first day with the fastest nine qualifiers taking part in a shootout late in the afternoon. Day two fills positions 25-33 and bumps out the slowest cars. In the last two years, only one car has been bumped from the field–Michel Jourdain, Jr. due to a lack of entries.

On Inside Indiana Business with Gerry Dick, Miles laid out his plan:

  • Saturday would see all spots 1-33 filled, but all qualifying speeds provisional and the order not finalized.
  • Sunday would see the order 1-33 determined, with spots 10-33 decided by a second day’s run and spots 1-9 again run in the final session to build the excitement for the pole position.

This would mark the 3rd time in 10 years that the qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500 would be changed, with an 11/11/11 format being used from 2005-2009 with a fourth and final day of qualifying being bump day, prior to that in 2001-2004 3 days of qualifying were used and prior to that from 1998-2000 on two days of qualfiying were used.

Before that, Indianapolis 500 qualifying consisted of 4 days with the pole sitter being determined on the first day, and the rest of the field being determined on the final 3 days of qualifying.

Whether or not this new format will be used is yet to be determined, but with the string of rumors that have come to fruition (IMS Road Course race, international races, condensed schedule) this may become the case.

The issue with qualifying for Indianapolis 500 since 1996 (the formation of the Indy Racing League) has been the lack of entries which had lead to uneventful days of qualifying and when nobody is in line to take a run, it just becomes drivers taking practice laps, which is not very exciting to watch at all.

Before the 1996 split, crowds on pole day were nearly as big as crowds for the race. The fans came to see innovation, new track records and the multitude of drivers have the opportunity to qualify for the 500. The Indy Racing League ended all innovation and new track records.

The lack of entries over the last couple years is also due to the new formula introduced in 2012. There is a limited amount of chassis and especially engines that are available. The engine issue was bad in 2012 (Mike Shank was unable to get an engine for his entry) and was alleviated only slightly this year.

Getting the car count up is no easy task, but a start would be taking the taxpayer money IMS sought after earlier in the year and putting that money into the purse for the race. If they beefed up the purse, one off entries for the 500 would likely break even on their investment, thus making it worth it to try to qualify for the race.

Now, putting just any field filler in the cars wouldn’t work either. So what do you do? You market out the 500 to drivers of other racing disciplines. Imagine if drivers like Tracy Hines, Jordan Taylor, Lucas Luhr, Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton could make it to Indy. It would bring back the spectacle in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Also add to the fact that the race being on ABC would give anybody who runs a one off deal much more exposure than running a race that is broadcasted on NBC Sports.

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