IndyCar Series To Double Down – Twice – In 2015

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 4 2014

Team Penske's Will Power won the 2014 IndyCar Series championship at the final race of the season. Next season he could run into double trouble. (Photo courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series)

Undeterred by massive criticism about Formula One’s decision to offer double championship points in that series’ season-ending race in 2014, INDYCAR announced this week that it is following suit.

In fact, America’s premier open-wheel series announced it was one-upping its European-based counterpart.

When the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook was issued to teams this week, it included changes to the sporting and technical regulations which include the awarding of double points for the 99th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and the season finale at Sonoma Raceway on Aug. 30.

“The best thing the sanctioning body can provide competitors, manufacturers and fans is a stable, consistent rulebook, so most of the changes for 2015 are clarifying and tidying up definitions,” said Derrick Walker, president of competition and operations, INDYCAR. “The rulebook is continuously evolving and we always look to refine it to make the product better.”

F1 awarded double points in the 2014 season-finale in Abu Dhabi. The decision to do so insured that the final race would not begin with the championship already bagged by Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes AMG team as it kept his teammate, Nico Rosberg, mathematically eligible.

But some fans, media and, even, drivers derided the rule change as a gimmick.

On Wednesday, the message was apparently received as a move to scrub double points for the 2015 season-ending F1 event was boldly ratified at a meeting of the World Motor Sport Council.

INDYCAR, on the other hand, apparently liked what it saw leading up to Abu Dhabi.

Walker used the word “evolving” to describe the decision to go to double points for its big event and its grand finale.

But in recent years, big time motorsports in America have not so much been slowly and carefully changing as they have been revolutionizing. Changes in NASCAR and Indy cars have been quick and dramatic. Those changes have included everything from machinery to race-day formats to officiating decisions.

The reasons for the massive changes to a sport which so loudly and so often boasts about tradition and heritage are, of course, financially based.

With older fans (those who grew up during the days when car culture was king in America) losing interest, and with new fans displaying fickle allegiance and a desire for evermore action, race series officials have been rolling out the gimmicks at hares’ pace in an effort to fill seats and improve Nielsen numbers.

NASCAR apparently got a satisfying bump from its newest, most radical gimmick – an elimination playoff format. There were bigger gates at places like Martinsville and Phoenix this year. Buzz certainly was amped up. And, when NASCAR officials step up to microphones this weekend in Las Vegas in events surrounding their annual awards banquet, expect a ballyhoo-o-rama centered on the new format.

Of course, proof that elimination playoffs are reviving interest in the sport will come much further down the line.

F1 didn’t wait for further evidence that double points was a bad idea. I could’t afford to.

The fact that Formula One opted to institute a double-points payday at Abu Dhabi is revealing and disconcerting. F1 types have long held the opinion that gimmicks are for chumps. To jump into the G pool itself indicates the depth of disconcertion.

Open-wheel racing in Europe has been a power for decades. Despite billion dollar team budgets, the sport continued to grow. Even during the economic disasters of the last decade.

That had to comfort all in racing. The thought had to be: F1 remains economically viable so there must be a way to return our series to popularity and financial stability.

Now, with the economy still sucking fumes and with costs to compete reaching the point of being immoral, F1 is under going a crisis. Witness the contraction of teams and resulting reduced fields late last season. Immunity for the ills besetting other series has proven to be more hope than fate for Formula One.

The decision by INDYCAR to double down on gimmickry will do very little to advance the sport. In fact, it could spur a backlash.

As NASCAR found out through a series of radical changes over the past decade, race fans – those that don’t merely enjoy the sport but are passionate about it – tend to be allergic to the mistreatment of tradition.

For years now, INDYCAR has messed with the Big Boy of American racing tradition – the Indianapolis 500. Some of the changes to the event – like the elimination of Bump Day – have been dictated by necessity. Others, by a perceived need for gimmickry.

It remains to be seen how the latest changes will be accepted by fans and, hence, sponsors. Or, if the move to double points is even needed as the last nine championships have been decided on the final Sunday of the season.

The thing about tinkering with formulas that have served you well in the past is once tinkering starts, it never stops.

Open-wheel racing is a wonderful sport. Here’s hoping the need to tinker ends soon. That will truly mean that auto racing’s fortunes have swung back in the proper direction.

Additional highlights from the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook:

For 2015, 100 points are awarded to the winner of a double-points race, with the runner-up receiving 80 points and the third-place finisher receiving 70 points. The scale decreases to 10 points for the 25th-place finisher and lower. Bonus points again will be awarded for leading the most race laps (two points) and leading at least one lap (one point). Outside of the Indianapolis 500, an entrant receives one point for earning the Verizon P1 Award. The Indianapolis 500 will reward all entrants with points in its May 16-17 multi-tiered qualifications, including nine additional points for the Verizon P1 Award winner.

Again in 2015, each full-season entry is allowed four fresh engines from the start of the season to the start of the following season with a total allotment of 10,000 miles. Twenty points will be deducted from a manufacturer’s total for an engine failing to complete its life cycle and an engine undergoing a non-minor repair that requires a component change.

“The primary reason for the adjustments to the manufacturer points championship, following input and discussions with Chevrolet and Honda, is the shift in terms of number of teams and drivers with each manufacturer,” Walker said. “We don’t want the manufacturer championship to be a contest that is solely about whether you can dominate the grid with the number of cars in your lineup. It is about engines, and we measure their performance in a few different ways.”

* Standing starts, which were introduced in 2013 at Toronto and utilized at four venues in 2014, have been eliminated for the 2015 season.

“Most of the tracks we run on, few meet the space criteria for our cars, which are bigger than most formula cars,” Walker said, “and there is some development needed with the launch. I wouldn’t say it’s out of the picture for the future. We know the fans enjoy it, and we love it, too.”

* Teams will be charged four days from their 14-day test allocation for Promoter Days (formerly known as Open Tests) at Barber Motorsports Park (March 16-17, for the introduction of Chevrolet and Honda street/road course aero kits), St. Petersburg (March 27), NOLA Motorsports Park (April 10), the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval (May 3), the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (May 7) and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (July 31). The on-track Promoter Day at St. Petersburg, NOLA Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis road course and Mid-Ohio immediately precedes the race event weekends.

“We see these days, working with the promoters, as a way fans can see the stars and cars in ways that aren’t available during the race weekend,” Walker said. “It will be a less formal day for the teams and drivers with long on-track sessions. Also, when you look at the schedule, there aren’t too many days that teams can test with the arrival of aero kits. We picked a nominal amount of dates to start to create value and cost-savings for teams.”

* Qualification groups for road/street course races shall be determined by the practice session prior to Segment 1 of the three rounds of qualifying.

* Qualifying will continue to set the pit lane assignment for the following event, but rule 7.4.1 addresses changing drivers between events, such as Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2014. When Conway, who drove 12 road/street course races in the No. 20 entry, yielded to Carpenter for an oval race (and vice versa), the No. 20 car was assigned the last pit stall from pit out. Under the new rule, the entrant will retain the pit assignment based upon qualifying position from the previous event, regardless of driver.

* Each of the speed phases of the Rookie Orientation Program for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race have been increased 5 mph. In addition to car control, placement and a consistent driving pattern, the Rookie Orientation Program shall consist of three phases totaling 40 laps: Phase One of 10 laps at 205-210 mph, Phase Two of 15 laps at 210-215 mph and Phase Three of 15 laps at 215+ mph. The laps do not have to be consecutive. The phases and corresponding speeds may be adjusted based on track/weather conditions.

* Correspondingly, the Indianapolis 500 refresher test for drivers will consist of 30 total laps (the second and third phases of the ROP).

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, December 4 2014
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