There are some new ways of thinking at 16th and Georgetown, and they are being fully displayed in the format for Pole Day at the Indy 500. There has been no official announcement about qualifying this year, other than the budget conscious slashing from four days down to two. While this was a move made for bean counting purposes, it also could be viewed as a good move to allow another race to take place in May to help the build up to the Memorial Day classic.
But with radical changes to the qualifying format over the last few years including multiple attempts per car and bumping on all four days of qualifying, there has been no good feel to what the shortened qualifying format would be.
Jack Arute just put up a blog post detailing some of the new format changes, and I think this has lots of good potential. According to Jack, all 33 slots will be available for qualifying on Pole Day from 11am – 4pm. Then taking a page from road/street course qualifying, the 9 fastest cars will continue taking laps from 4pm – 6pm to determine the order of the front three rows and the pole. How is that for thinking differently?
I really like the idea, but I can’t help but point out some potential problems. The fastest laps have always been set in the first hour or so of qualifying, which really puts a lot of emphasis on your pill draw for qualifying since you wont have a chance to put in laps on the late afternoon cooling track unless you put in quick times in the morning. This is helped by kicking off qualifying at 11am instead of the traditional noon start, but invariably the best times will be set when the track is cooler, so this additional hour may not help as much as they hope.
All 9 cars will have the opportunity to run attempts during the same 2 hour window, insuring that they will all have the same track conditions to work with. Further, it reduces the shenanigans that can happen in the chute as you wait for your turn to take an attempt.
Jack did not provide any details about bump day format. Maybe we will have a “dirt slow 6” session where only the bottom 6 on the pole and all the unqualified are allowed to run. With 31 cars fully confirmed for Indy, and credible reports saying 40 will attempt to qualify, bump day could provide all its own drama without any tweaks to the program.
We are still waiting to hear details like how many attempts each car will get per day, how many attempts each car will get in the “fast 9” session and if they messed with the tenderloin recipe.
Jack mentioned in his post that he would like to see something like this done at all the ovals. Qualifying at road/street races is an event, but oval quals lack appeal outside of Indy. It would be interesting to see them test doing oval qualifying with the same format as the road courses with the multiple sessions with multiple cars on course.
Change is in the air at 16th and Georgetown. Now we as the faithful fans have to decide if we are going to firmly plant our stick selves in the mud and whinge about the good old days of upright roadsters and dirt tracks, or embrace the new ideas that seem to be adding uphill momentum to a series that has been gathering no moss on its downhill trek.