Switches to a couple elements of Verizon IndyCar Series weekends are coming ahead of the 2017 season, as outlined by the sanctioning body on Monday.
Two oval races at Phoenix Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park will see qualifying switch to race day, earlier in the afternoon on Saturday before the races Saturday night. This will see the return of regular race day action to an oval for the first time in more than a decade, although there have been a couple exceptions in recent years (Milwaukee 2015, where practice, qualifying and the race were all on one day and Texas’ restart last year, with a split practice before the race).
Both the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix weekends also see a slight alternation. The IndyCar activities on the IMS road course will take place over two days, just Friday and Saturday.
Detroit, which had split its qualifying format by using a standard road/street course format for race one and two groups for race two, now sees the latter format implemented for both races. For this session, there will be 12 minutes of track time allotted for each qualifying group (with five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time). Qualifying groups for Belle Isle will be based on best lap times from the practice session immediately preceding Race 1 qualifications. If a car causes a red-flag situation during a qualifying session, its best two timed laps will be disallowed and it will not be permitted to continue in the session. One driver and entrant championship point will be awarded to the fastest car in each qualifying group on both days.
For most road/street course events, practice sessions on the first day will have standardized start times of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. local, and both will be 45 minutes apiece.
A bigger rules tweak comes in INDYCAR’s push-to-pass system. Rather than going by a number of uses, it will be based on a maximum time allotment for each car instead of the number of uses. The events at the streets of St. Petersburg, Raceway at Belle Isle Park and Sonoma Raceway will have a total overtake time allotment of 150 seconds for each race, with the other road/street races set for 200 seconds. Drivers can now disengage the system if they so desire to save seconds if they’ve hit it for a straight. And perhaps most crucially, push-to-pass will not be available at the start of a race or for any restarts, with the exception of a restart commencing with two laps remaining in the race.
“INDYCAR consulted with our various stakeholders – teams, drivers, event promoters – to refine the weekend schedules and generate the most value and excitement for everyone,” Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, said in a release. “These changes are subtle but will enhance the race weekend experience for everyone involved, most particularly our fans.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.