Feb 7, 2005
IndyCar Readies for the RoadBy JR Nerad
When the Indy Racing League announced its formation, one of its key tenets was "all ovals, all the time." Founder Tony George, who happens to run the premier oval-racing track in all the world (okay, it's really more of a rectangle, but you get the idea.), was emphatic about the superiority of oval racing. Not only is oval racing great for the fans in the stands; it is also significantly easier to televise. Those two benefits made it a winner in George's book.
But that was then and this is now. And now the IRL series, which is transitioning to the name IndyCars, has scheduled three road racing events on its 17-race schedule. The first of those, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, will take place on a picturesque fourteen-turn 1.8 mile temporary course that will meander between the city's waterways before incorporating the runways of Albert Whitted Municipal Airport. It's the third race of the season.
The others will take place late in the year at Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point), northeast of San Francisco, and at Watkins Glen in New York state, which was once the home of the United States Grand Prix. Now, of course, Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts that event.
So how is the Indy Racing League dealing with the new requirement that cars turn right as well as left? Well, actually pretty well, according to the initial reports. Dallara and Panoz, the two chassis-builders involved in the series, are offering road race update kits for $65,000 a car, and in early testing there are no major complaints. Similarly gearboxes, which take a beating in road racing, are currently holding up remarkably well in practice sessions.
One added crowd-pleasing element for road course racing is the qualifying procedures IndyCar has instituted. Qualifying will begin with single-car runs, but then the top six will return to the track as a group to fight it out for the first half dozen starting slots. This will give the Saturday crowds a taste of wheel-to-wheel action instead of witnessing one car at a time whizzing by, a sight somewhat less interesting than eyeballing the 405 freeway at rush hour.
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