About time for Indy Qualifying change
Friday's announcement by the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials that they've decided to shake up the month of May once more -- this time, changing the Indianapolis 500's qualifying format -- is another welcome breath of fresh air from the relatively new management team.
Traditionalists -- however not many are actually left -- might complain simply for complaint's sake, but it's hard to imagine even this Cretaceous-aged group of curmudgeons groaning too loudly. Moving the Fast Nine Shootout for pole position to the end of the weekend, on Sunday, May 18, rather than on Saturday as it was for the past four years, actually -- gasp -- makes a lot of sense.
Are we sure this is IndyCar we're talking about?
Sure is. For starters, Bump Day has become a farce in recent years as Indy struggled to attract more than 33 cars. You have to go back to 2011 for the most recent case of any actual drama on the Sunday. At the moment, there is little reason to believe much excitement would have unfolded on Bump Day this year under the decades-old format. The most painful thing about watching poor Michel Jourdain Jr. fail to qualify on Bump Day last year -- he was the only driver in that predicament -- wasn't so much Jourdain missing the race, but the efforts of the on-air crew trying to convince the seven people still watching at home that this was just the most exciting, typically Indy deal we could ever hope to see. But I suppose that this was high-drama at its finest compared to the previous few hours of cars droning around the Speedway with nothing really at stake.
As Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman Motorsports, which oversees IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said Friday, "What this is about for us is that we have a desire to give fans more opportunities to see IndyCar drivers on the track when there's a lot at stake, not just with practice, but where they are out there with putting it on the line in a way that matters.
"First, pursuant to that goal, we added the Grand Prix of Indianapolis [on the Indy road course to open the Month of May]. I would say the reaction from fans and ticket purchasers has been terrific.
"Now today we're announcing changes for qualifying. These changes, we believe, ensure that fans will enjoy two days of exciting track action. I think in the last many years, Saturday has been the day in qualifying, but there's been an opportunity to add more compelling content on Sunday and that's what we're trying to do here.
"Saturday will determine who will get into the Indianapolis 500 race, and Sunday will determine where the cars who got into the race will start on the grid for the race itself.
"These two days will culminate, lead up to, the setting of the first three rows and the positions in the first three rows and who will start the race in the pole position. We think that makes for more compelling experiences at the track, and for television viewers all over the country, we believe the same."
Frankly, it's somewhat amazing that someone didn't figure this out years ago. Most fans don't care who fills the grid's backend when the pole shootout already has been decided, and casual fans -- something IndyCar craves and needs desperately -- care even less.
But this year, just maybe thanks to this change, the entire weekend of qualifying will draw more people to the Speedway and more TV viewers for a longer period of time, peaking Sunday with the Fast Nine. So not only does the change make sense from a competition and entertainment standpoint, it makes sense from a business perspective. Combined with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis road-course race on the weekend of May 8-10 -- not to mention an Indy 500 entry list including Juan Pablo Montoya, Jacques Villeneuve and Kurt Busch -- Indy should do more business, draw more on-site fans and TV viewers, and garner more interest and make more money in 2014 than it has in years.
Good move, IndyCar and IMS. AutoWeek