IndyCar’s new points structure worth a shot

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If we didn’t know motorsport is in a battle for relevancy, we certainly do now.

Arguably the three biggest racing organizations on Earth – NASCAR, Formula One, and now IndyCar – have altered their points structures in attempts to produce more compelling products that can’t be ignored.

NASCAR is now on its fourth version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which virtually ensures race winners a spot in the post-season and features eliminations after every third Chase race.

Formula One, dealing with a fan base sick and tired of Sebastian Vettel winning everything, chose to go ahead with making the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a double points event.

And just yesterday, IndyCar revealed double points for their 500-mile events and a new points-paying system for Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

Never mind the hardcore fans well-versed in the nuances of the sport. Brian France, the FIA, and Mark Miles need to build their respective series’ presence and from their perspectives, they need the casual fan to do it.

Unfortunately, the casual fans can be quite fickle – they may clamor for one thing, but once they get it, they decide they don’t like it and clamor for something else.

Thus, we don’t know where this ongoing situation of series overhauling their championships, all in a bid to make their “show” a can’t-miss event, is going to lead.

In a time where there’s more entertainment options that continuously fragment an average person’s attention span, that “can’t-miss” status  has become the Holy Grail. And the hardcore fans of the sport are going to have to deal with that.

Pertaining to IndyCar, its great racing product has been no-sold for years by the general public, so one can argue they don’t really have a choice but to find ways to get attention, artificially or otherwise.

While fans enjoyed the fact that IndyCar’s original (and, for non 500-mile events, still intact) points format allowed for what they believed was a purer way to settle a championship compared to the Chase, did the subsequent title battles become national stories? The answer, unfortunately, was no.

And so, Mark Miles, Derrick Walker and the rest have come up with their plan to build buzz: Double points at Indianapolis, Pocono and the season finale at Fontana, plus an Indy 500 qualifying structure that will dole out points in descending order for all Saturday qualifiers (33 points for first place, one point for 33rd place) before the pole is settled Sunday among the Fast Nine drivers (nine points for pole, on down to one point for ninth position).

The good news in IndyCar’s case is that we can see a method to the madness. Unlike Formula One’s version of double points that simply sticks the idea at the season finale, IndyCar’s version saves it for their longest races of the season.

It also balances the importance between the ovals and the road/street courses in regards to the championship, especially those road/street doubleheader weekends that Scott Dixon used brilliantly on the way to his third IndyCar title last year.

Points still skew toward the twisty tracks (600 points up for grabs on non-ovals, 492 on ovals) but with just six ovals on the schedule, that breakdown is tolerable.

Of course, you wish it wouldn’t have had to come to this and that the series’ on-track magic would speak for itself. But that’s just not going to happen.

With that in mind, the new structure is worth a shot on IndyCar’s end and a “wait and see” approach on ours.

INDYCAR announces several rules and protocol changes for 2018 season

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The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).

But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.

First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:

* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.

* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.

There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):

  • The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
  • Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
  • The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
  • A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
  • Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
  • INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
  • Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
  • The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both do not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver and driver equivalency weight) – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.