Weekend schedule, other rules tweaks outlined for 2017 IndyCar season

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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.”