Indy-style qualifying on tap at all ovals in 2008
One quick lap won't be enough to win a pole position in the IndyCar Series in 2008. Embracing its Indianapolis 500 heritage, the IndyCar Series will implement four-lap qualifying runs at every oval racetrack in 2008 beginning with the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29.
The pole winner will be the driver who records the fastest cumulative time over four laps.
"Qualifying is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences for an IndyCar Series driver," said Brian Barnhart, president of the competition and operations division of the Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body of the IndyCar Series and the Indy Pro Series. "At Indianapolis, that has meant 10 miles of error-free driving at 225-plus miles per hour. We're going to take that kind of intensity and drama to every other oval on our schedule.
"This new qualifying format will enhance the overall IndyCar Series weekend experience for our fans and our oval track promoters with a direct link to the Indianapolis 500."
Qualifying on road and street courses will retain its current format in 2008. In 2006, the IndyCar Series introduced a unique qualifying format for road and street courses that included single-lap, single-car qualifying for all cars followed by a 10-minute Firestone Fast Six shootout by the fastest six cars to determine the pole position.
The new oval qualifying format also includes a maximum of one attempt per car at the tracks outside of Indianapolis.
The Indy Pro Series will also adopt a new qualifying process for all oval tracks, utilizing a cumulative two-lap qualifying attempt.
Select quotes from drivers and track promoters regarding new qualifying format:
Eddie Gossage, President of Texas Motor Speedway: "The four-lap qualifying format adds drama and may bridge the gap between the front-running teams and the teams in the back of the pack. The drama is: Can Helio Castroneves or Danica Patrick or Dan Wheldon avoid a mistake - a little bobble - while holding their breath for four laps at 220 mph? Maybe they could for a lap or two of qualifying, but four laps require tremendous focus and mental strength. And a little bobble will put a fast car at the back of the starting lineup. The cars in the back of the pack may be slower, but if they pull off four consistent laps they can qualify at the front of the field. That's good drama for Indy Car racing."
Darren Manning, A.J. Foyt Racing: "I don't know if I can hold my breath for four laps. Normally it's just two laps you've got to hold your breath. At some of these tracks, I think it's going to be a big difference. You're starting to go a bit slower, your car's handling is already starting to go away after that second flying lap, so it's going to mix up the qualifying order a lot. Normally, somebody might put in an absolute flyer just for one lap and then pull into the pits. They've got to do it for four laps now. I think that will be better for the teams like ourselves that are trying to break into the big league. They maybe could really out qualify us, but then in the race, you find that you're racing with them. Maybe this is going to bring them back towards us in qualifying, which will make it a bit easier at the start of the race anyway."
Marco Andretti, Andretti Green Racing: "It will be interesting, especially at the Milwaukees and Richmonds. There are some ovals where it can be quite easy for one lap. This will make it tougher to get a balance for the four laps. Even on some of the bigger ovals, it will be a bigger challenge to get balance and speed while staying on the line."
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: "It's a new challenge. That's the way they do it at Indianapolis, so it's great to have it at other race tracks. It should be fun and exciting. It will be tight, that's for sure. It should be very competitive."
Dan Wheldon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing: "I think it's good for the series and good for the fans. They get used to the way we qualify for the Indianapolis 500, so I'm excited about it. You need to make sure that every lap counts. You could see from the last race of last season, and all races for that matter, that the series is very competitive. You can't make a mistake in qualifying. It will add a new element of excitement."
Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing: "It's going to be great for the first couple if you do well, but it's going to make it challenging. Not so much on the bigger circuits, but places like Milwaukee and Richmond, it's going to be really tough. I know that I can put one lap together quite comfortably at Milwaukee, but trying to put four together is a different story. There may be some conservative approaches and it should definitely mix up how people start in races, which is good for the race in general. It makes qualifying something you need to work on for consistency, which will help the racing, as well."