Barnhart and Chitwood on Indy’s qualifying format
BRIAN BARNHART (President, Competition and Operations, Indy Racing League pictured far right next to Joie Chitwood): "A lot of thought went into the process to develop the new format and there's so many years of history and tradition here, but realistically, coming out of the first weekend, you usually came out with 20 to 25 cars qualified, and that's what we've got. We've got 22 cars qualified, we just got there a little different way that I think was way more entertaining for the fans. And the one thing that I certainly get a closer reaction to immediately is the reaction of the crews and the drivers because of the process that we got through, and while it was tension-filled, especially with the drivers and what's at stake when they do that, that's what they're paid to do and that's what they have fun doing.
When you look at the face of Tony Kanaan when he's getting ready to go out at five minutes to 6 or waiting for Helio to finish, he was eating it up; he was ready to go. The drivers had fun, the crews had fun, the managers and strategists had fun trying to decide what they wanted to do - to go to impound, to go back to tech. It was a different game to be played and so I know the participants enjoyed it, and I've always felt that whether it's on the track or the formats, if it's something the participants enjoy doing, then they're going to entertain the fans. Like I said, the good news is that we came out with just exactly what we're looking for as we head out into the second week-about the same number of cars qualified.
We've got 22, which is probably pretty close to the average that used to qualify. One of the things I liked best about it was not just he drama and the excitement that was provided for yesterday, but the fact that we did it with this new format put meaning on today. If we wouldn't have done this format we'd have probably qualified 22 to 24 cars yesterday and then sat around and ran practice all day today because nobody would have taken a time and we'd have had no meaning for the second day.
Now, the second day had meaning. It wasn't quite as much as the first day, but it shouldn't be - that's the Pole Day. But the second day, the middle of the field had meaning. You could tell by what Buddy, Jaques and Jon Herb doing there at the end of the day, they want to know, they at least have a temporary spot reserved in the field and they can work on Race Day setups next week and work with sponsors and make sure they know that at least now they're in the field, at least right now. It still had meaning for a Second Day Qualifying that in the last several years didn't exist.
So, very successful from our standpoint, the teams, drivers and fans that I've talked to. I've been overwhelmed by the fans' response that I've had several e-mails and stopping with the fans in Gasoline Alley that it's all been positive so we're very pleased." (About adding another hour to the day): "I think that's really more a Joie question. In terms of the facility and noise, but from our standpoint, jumping in on it, Don, the cars performance isn't dramatically affected by temperatures as it used to be either. Again, that's a testament to our manufacturers and suppliers. Dario (Franchitti) ran his (qualification attempt) at one o'clock in the afternoon. His 25.1 stood up there until five minutes 'till 6. And even though it did cool off, it really wasn't a temperature-related issue.
I think when Helio (Castroneves) and Tony (Kanaan) ran a little faster, it was more wind-related than it was temperature. And, I think, if you remember, I think (Sam) Hornish ran his pole speed, I think in the heat of the day last year as well, so the cars seem to be less sensitive to temperatures than they have been in the past but maybe a little more sensitive to wind. Especially with the gear ratios. I think that's what caught a lot of people off guard early yesterday, was the direction of the wind. I was just amazed at one point, they ended up starting third, fourth, and fifth, but I thought the closeness of the competition, at one point, for several minutes, we had 225.1 on the pole, 225.1 second, and 225.1 third.
Like I said, I think they're third, fourth, and fifth now, but after a 10-mile run, of three teams that were represented that close, it just shows how good the competition is, and it literally came down to a gust of wind, or the wind laying down a little bit that gave Helio and Tony the opportunity to do what they did. And from another standpoint, I hope people understand what it takes to withdraw a time from an incredibly secure starting position at the Indy 500, in the second row, to go out there and make a run. It's just an amazingly brave decision. And it shows what these guys are willing to do, but more than that, it shows what the Indianapolis 500 means to them.
They're in the field, in the second row, well, that's not good enough. When you see the look that I saw on Danica (Patrick's) face that I saw who was in the middle of the third row, that she didn't get to go out and run again, and she was looking to move up to the second or the front row and didn't get a chance to do it, these guys are so passionate about this place, that that certainly bodes well for the future. That's a little off track, Joie can answer more on your Daylight Savings, I guess."
JOIE CHITWOOD (President and Chief Operating Officer, Indianapolis Motor Speedway): "I'd say I'd be pleased any day the sun is shining and the temperature is about 78 to 82 degrees. I think we pulled some weather numbers for the last eight years during qualifications; we were either wet or below 70 (degrees), so the fact that we had great weather really felt good and I think Brian and I-it's typical that we'd be doing this press conference at 3 on a Saturday saying what the format is for Sunday after it had rained out. But it was nice to see it in action. I think our goal was to come up with a process that provided more activity on each day of qualifications, and I think the numbers bore out.
I think we had 44 attempts, 11 bumps, two wave-offs, four weren't fast enough and five withdrew. So, we're really pleased that it did what it was supposed to and that was not only to provide a run for the pole, a run for the top 11 and then, today, a run for the next set of 11. And it was nice to actually see it in progress, but also to actually see the result because many times when Brian and I sit down and talk about these things, we hope it's going to play out the way it does; we plan for everything and all-in-all I was pleased. I couldn't be more happy. I thought the energy was there yesterday, from the plaza area to the garage area, it seemed like there was a great atmosphere and a lot of people seemed to be enjoying the day.
(Are you happy with the fan response?): "Absolutely. I think both Friday and Saturday were both outstanding days. From a hospitality standpoint, we were jam packed. All the hospitality rooms, Legends Row Suites, we had great corporate response. And I will tell you, there was a bustle. Whether is was getting in line to get soft drinks, food, or just to get in the gates, folks were getting in here at 7 a.m. excited for the day. I was very pleased. I was very pleased to look up into the Northwest Vista and see a bunch of fans sitting in Turn 4.
I was very happy, of course, there's always room to improve. Always room, whether it's a practice day, whether it's a qualification day, whether it's Miller Lite Carb Day. We want to do as many activities and entertainment to draw folks out here. And the key thing for us is to make sure we have things that are compelling for, not only a 5 year old, but a 15 year old, a 25 year old, a 30 year old, and the folks that remember the A.J. Foyts running here and doing all the things they did. That's our job. Yeah, I'm the track president, but at the end of the day, we're all promoters and we're promoting entertainment. I think what we did this weekend is offer a new format for qualification that was a great form of entertainment. I think the fans enjoyed it, I think the competitors did, and I'm excited now because we got to see it in action this weekend. I'm excited to see what it can be for next year.
People are talking about how that was pretty exciting, that was pretty fun. 'Wow, did you see Sam Hornish take two shots at it? The first one he almost white-walled it and the second, he had a pretty good wiggle.' That's the kind of entertainment, I think, folks are interested in, and I'm looking forward to what it can do for next year, now that we've had it happen for the first time and people are talking about it."
(About adding another hour to the day): "I get the exciting part of this conversation. You know, at the end of the day, you have to realize that we are a racetrack within a neighborhood. I think that it's always about a fair balance, in terms of operating the property and with the neighbors around us, you know, 6 o'clock has, kind of, always been the standard for when we shut down, and I think, unless there's a real need from the competition side to address it, I think that's a comfortable time for us to be operating."