Pressure increases for drivers in new Indy 500 qualifying

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A new qualifying format has emerged at the Indianapolis 500. And the pressure of one of motorsport’s greatest challenges has increased to go along with it.

As part of the new rules, every car in the field will now have to undergo the four-lap, 10-mile blitz around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at least twice.

And Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 National Guard Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, has acknowledged that the stress for drivers and teams is certain to rise.

“I can tell you the biggest sigh of a relief as a driver is when you got in on Saturday, and on Sunday you didn’t have to think about doing four more laps,” Rahal said during an INDYCAR teleconference today that featured Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and INDYCAR president of competition Derrick Walker.

“Now we have to think about that all the time. I’m sure there’s going to be more tension, a bit more nerve-wracking for everybody involved. But that’s what it’s all about. That’s why these drivers and teams are the best in the world.”

Saturday, May 17 will see the fastest 33 entries qualify for the race, with the fastest nine advancing to the next day’s Fast Nine shootout for the pole position.

However, those Saturday times will be erased and entries in positions 10-33 will re-qualify on Sunday in order of the slowest to fastest Saturday times to determine their official starting positions.

The Fast Nine will then take place, with each entry in that shootout getting one qualifying attempt.

While Rahal says it’ll lead to more tension among the competitors, he is also cognizant of the ultimate goal that INDYCAR hopes to achieve with the new format: Bigger TV numbers and attendance at the Brickyard.

Bump Day activity on Sunday has been a lowlight of the Month of May in recent times, with no bumping achieved at all in the 2012 and 2013 qualifying sessions. The new format should, at the least, put some more excitement into Sunday.

“I think everybody [in the paddock] is going to be very supportive,” Rahal said. “Of course, there are traditionalists out there that believe we didn’t need to change anything.

“The one thing I do know about IndyCar drivers and the teams alike is everybody is supportive and behind Mark and Derrick, everybody making these decisions because we all want to grow the sport. We all want to see the fan base increase.”

As for giving teams enough time to practice on their set-ups for Race Day itself, Walker said that INDYCAR is working to ensure that teams will have time available for that purpose – adding that the series hoped to get a final schedule out to teams sometime next week.

“In terms of allowing or helping any teams that are trying to get in the show, we’re going to do our best to make sure there’s always available time for every competitor, and every competitor gets an equal attempt to get in the race,” he said.

Even with that assurance, the margin of error has now thinned even further with this new format. With Sunday no longer there as a safety net, drivers and teams must be quick from the get-go.

“I would say what they’ve done here has added a lot of pressure to everybody involved to make sure you’re on top of your game on both days,” Rahal said. “So there’s no fall-back plan on a Sunday anymore. You have to make sure you get it done right away.”

The Callaway Corvette GT3 is coming to America, in PWC

Photo: Callaway Competition USA
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Pirelli World Challenge has been in need of some good news from a car count standpoint early into this offseason, and receives it Monday with confirmation Callaway Competition will bring its GT3-spec homologated Corvette C7 GT3-R Stateside next season.

The withdrawal of the factory Cadillac Racing program after PWC’s season finale in Sonoma in September has opened the door for the factory-blessed Corvette C7 GT3-R to run in North America, because Cadillac’s ATS-V.R has been the lone GT3-spec car under the General Motors awning for the last three seasons, while the Callaway Corvette has raced only internationally.

Reeves Callaway has been on site at the tail end of the PWC season to survey the opportunity and now a deal has been struck for a factory effort to run next year, before the Callaway Corvette program becomes a customer effort in 2019. This follows the same timeline as Acura did with its new NSX GT3 this year to run it as a factory program in 2017 before shifting to customer efforts in 2018.

“Joining the Pirelli World Challenge has been a long term objective for Callaway Competition,” Callaway said in a release. “Now the field is a roll-call of the most capable sports cars from every country. To do well here, you must beat the best in the world. What better way to showcase our iconic American car?

“For 2018, we will run a Callaway factory team to give us the best chance of continuing the championship record the Corvette has achieved in international competition. For 2019, we will not race against our customers, but provide high-quality support to them in the tradition of other manufacturer customer racing support programs.”

“For several years fans have asked when they would see the Callaway Corvette GT3 run in the Pirelli World Challenge,” added Greg Gill, President and CEO of Pirelli World Challenge. “The wait is over and we are very pleased to announce the arrival of the Callaway Corvette GT3 for the 2018 season.”

The Callaway Competition USA Corvette C7 GT3-R will be unveiled and both full season drivers announced at the Performance Racing Industry show in Indianapolis on December 7 at the Pirelli World Challenge booth. Following the unveiling event, the car will be on display for the remainder of the trade show. Details of the presentation will be announced in the coming weeks.

Callaway’s confirmation comes amidst the likely drawdown of potentially nine or 10 cars that raced in PWC’s GT and GTA ranks either all season or most of it in 2017, among at least five manufacturers. That’s not to say those losses can’t be recouped elsewhere on the grid, over the next several months before the St. Petersburg season opener in March.

PWC will hold its annual state of the series and competitor meeting to finalize the next year’s plans at the PRI show as well.