New weekend schedules among 2017 IndyCar season tweaks

Chris Jones/INDYCAR

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

NASCAR won’t be the only major series in North American motorsport to make changes in 2017, as INDYCAR unveiled Monday a list of changes and tweaks for the upcoming Verizon IndyCar Series (VICS) season.

While admittedly on a smaller scale than America’s most popular tour, IndyCar’s alternations should prove noticeable over the course of the season.

The most notable change in weekend format comes in two of the year’s oval races at Phoenix Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park, wherein both events will see qualifying switched to race day. Both events will hold Saturday afternoon qualifications ahead of night races.

The road course races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Mich., will also see changes. IMS will hold action solely on Friday and Saturday for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix doubleheader will see the same group qualifying format typically used on day two adopted both days of the weekend. All competing teams will be split up into two groups and allotted 12 minutes of track time to set a time, with groups set by lap times in the practice session held most recently before qualifications. The top entrant from each group will receive a championship point.

In the event of multiple on-track incidents, teams will be guaranteed five minutes of green-flag track time. Any cars that cause red flags will have their top two lap times disallowed.

INDYCAR has also made an attempt to standardize practice times. Each road/street course will offer the same two 45-minute practice sessions at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time for teams to dial in their machines.

Teams will receive an additional set of Firestone’s softer compound red-sidewall alternate tires for the weekend, bringing their total to four sets. Each team will be required to give up one set of both the soft compound and the primary-compound black-sidewall tires over the weekend, returning one set after each of the two practice sessions.

In terms of the racing itself, the largest change comes in the distribution of the push-to-pass system. VICS drivers will be given a time allotment for the temporary horsepower boost instead of a number of uses. Teams will be allotted 150 seconds each for the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Belle Isle and Sonoma Raceway. All other road-and-street-course races will offer drivers 200 seconds of push-to-pass.

Drivers will have to hold their own without the boost on restarts, however. The system will not be available for the initial start of the event, nor any restarts save for those coming with two or fewer laps remaining in the race.

“INDYCAR consulted with our various stakeholders – teams, drivers, event promoters – to refine the weekend schedules and generate the most value and excitement for everyone,” Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, said in a release. “These changes are subtle but will enhance the race weekend experience for everyone involved, most particularly our fans.”

Fans will get their first taste of the new changes in the Mar. 12 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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