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Indy 500 qualifying changes continue IMS’ push to ramp up business side

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Nearly every change the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR have made this offseason has been with the goal of improving the entire Hulman Racing business, and Friday’s confirmation of a revised qualifying format for the Indianapolis 500, first hinted at in November, is no different.

Various commercial and PR hires, the addition of both the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May and a vintage race in June, plus the confirmation of two major new concerts (Jason Aldean and a three-headed DJ monster at the Snake Pit race day Sunday, led by Hardwell) are all elements needed to grow the bottom line.

And now, the qualifying overhaul has been announced and will likely ramp up the drama for both Saturday and Sunday anyway.

How, you ask? The pressure will now shift to making the field on Saturday, as opposed to the recent “well, we hope we make it on Saturday, but if not we can still get in first thing Sunday” dynamic that has existed under the previous format.

That will make every driver and team sweat it out for four laps, hit their marks and lock themselves in the first day.

On the chance there’s a 34th car – which, at the moment, would be hard to project – the bumping element will occur, and the drama would intensify.

It will give fans at the track one chance to see who will make the Fast 9 on Sunday. And provided there’s a 34th, the drama of bumping.

Previous to that, the only drama would be same day; wondering who would make it into the Fast 9 later in the day on Saturday, with Sunday then relatively devoid of drama for six hours.

On Sunday, the field’s starting positions will be set, and the Fast 9 then take their Shootout to determine the pole.

In past years, Sunday has been stale, with both Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and driver Graham Rahal noting during an INDYCAR teleconference held Friday how these changes should build interest.

“What this is about for us is that we have a desire to give fans more opportunities to see IndyCar drivers on the track when there’s a lot at stake, not just with practice, but where they are out there with putting it on the line in a way that matters,” Miles said.

“There’s going to be a lot of tension, there’s no doubt about that,” Rahal added.  “That’s what the fans want to see.

“Last year when we got to the top nine, Ed (Carpenter) put up the top lap, the fans go crazy. They like those moments that are go big or go home sort of moments.  That’s exactly what everybody is going to see this time around.

“I think it’s been pretty stale in recent times so this will add a whole other element. For the teams, it’s going to be a nerve-wracking element. As Derrick (Walker) said, when weather comes to Indy, it changes things completely.”

With an added ticket incentive to buy the two-day package for $30 as opposed to either/or of Saturday or Sunday at $20 apiece, there is cost savings potential for fans who want to come out both days.

Additionally, with both days nationally televised in part on ABC, there is the opportunity for the series to gather additional ratings and potentially catch more of the elusive, ubiquitous “casual fan.”

At track, the entire month of May is aimed at getting a greater percentage of local traffic through the gates at IMS, between this announcement and the others that have come out over the last several months.

For as many hardcore fans as there are, there are some in Indianapolis who will tell you there’s not as much local interest in the race as there used to be.

But now, all these events and announcements provide options. And collectively, they all should increase the bottom line.

The more money that flows into the coffers at 16th and Georgetown can be utilized in part to grow and promote the sport, which is really, ultimately, what this is all about.

Conor Daly’s IndyCar gets painted

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Conor Daly
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Conor Daly will compete full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year in a ride for Dale Coyne Racing.

Daly will make laps in the No. 18 Honda sponsored by Jonathan Byrd’s. The 24-year-old driver tweeted out a picture today of his race car getting painted for the season, which starts on March 13.

Daly has six IndyCar races under his belt so far.

USF2000 reintroduces National Class for 2016

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The National Class is officially back in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series for 2016.

Yes, when Eric Filgueiras and Spencer Racing announced they’d be in the National Class, that kind of gave it away that the class would be back without it being formally introduced.

Luckily though, the series has released the news today. A formal release is below:

Drivers seeking to make their way onto the Mazda Road to Indy now have an alternate, lower-cost route onto the first rung, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, with today’s confirmation that the National Class will be returning in 2016.

The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, offering a scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

Eligible to drivers at least 20 years of age before or during the 2016 season, the National Class will be open to all Sports Car Club of America-legal FC (Formula Continental) cars, from any chassis manufacturer, dating back to 2000. Any aerodynamic devices approved by the SCCA are permitted, although in the interests of safety all cars must be fitted with a nosebox crash structure, wheel tethers, Staubli devices, approved head surrounds and seats and yellow light system as required by all other current USF2000 cars.

Cars will be permitted to run either the same 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine per the USF2000 Championship Class regulations or sealed 2.0-liter Ford Zetec motors as prepared by Elite Engines or Quicksilver RacEngines with National Class mapping. Any SCCA-legal 6″ and 8″ wheels may be used, although all cars must run on Cooper tires.

Entry fees will be discounted 50 percent below the Championship Class rate, and each race winner will earn a free entry for an upcoming event in the same season. The second-place finisher will claim a 50 percent reduction in the entry fee for an upcoming race. In addition, race winners equipped with the MZR engine will take home a $1,000 award from Mazda.

As an added benefit and based on a minimum average car count of five entries per race weekend, the 2016 National Class champion will receive an “entry ticket” to the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout in the fall of this year where champions of select junior level-open wheel and karting series from around the world will compete for a Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 Championship Class in 2017.

The point system will be the same used by the Masters Class (formerly Expert Class) in the Pro Mazda championship.

“We are excited to bring back the National Class and allow drivers to sample the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “RC Enerson began his path on the ladder system in the National Class. It’s a great first step onto the platform for many drivers, and we are excited to offer this year’s champion an entry into the Shootout as well as a full-season entry package to USF2000 in 2017 in either the Championship or National Class.”

The Mazda Road to Indy will head to Barber Motorsport Park for Spring Training on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 2016 season will kick off on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Report: Scott Tucker arrested by FBI in payday lending scheme

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JANUARY 30:  The #95 Level 5 Motorsports BMW Riley driven by Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Richard Westbrook and Raphael Matos during The Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on January 30, 2011 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
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For four years from 2010 to 2013, Scott Tucker and Level 5 Motorsports were American Le Mans Series regulars, first in the Prototype Challenge class and then the LMP2 class. They won, a lot, and were a regular championship-contending effort, plus those who worked for the team had nothing but positive things to say about the operation that was run.

That said, the funding of the team was always perpetually questioned, as Tucker was always allegedly involved within the payday lending business, and had reportedly abusive practices towards customers.

This has been something of a bubbling story for five years but per Reuters, on Wednesday, Tucker and one of his lawyers were arrested by the FBI for their alleged exploitation.

Per Reuters, an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court outlined millions that went to Tucker, who then used it for various luxury items. Allegedly, more than $67 million went to the Level 5 Motorsports race team.

Level 5’s last IMSA series start came under the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship umbrella in January 2014, when the team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the GT Daytona class. The team withdrew from the championship following that race.

Social Roundup: IndyCar tests at Sonoma, Fontana

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There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The engines of the Verizon IndyCar Series have roared back to life this week, a month before the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

After a test at Phoenix International Raceway two days ago, two more tests are occurring today in California, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Sonoma Raceway.

At Auto Cub Speedway is Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe.

In Sonoma is the entirety of the Chip Ganassi Racing team and Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud from Team Penske.

Here’s a look at how the day is progressing at each test through social media. We’ll update throughout the day. If you’re attending either test, tweet us pictures at @MotorSportsTalk or @danielmcfadin of how you’re taking in the beginning of the 2016 season.

Sonoma Raceway

Auto Club Speedway