A Few Time Trial Suggestions

Speedway, IN – With just thirty-five cars to vie for starting spots in the 500 over this weekend, there will be more happy faces than sad ones when time trials end on Sunday at 6:00pm.

Only two cars will go home and miss the race, either because of mechanical problems, lack of speed or an on-track incident.

The Speedway has worked hard to build excitement into qualifications, but the lack of bumping drama, along with fewer race entries in recent years, have combined to take some of the juice out of the weekend: remember, children, there once was four days of this over almost two weeks.

The “Fast Nine” run for the pole brought some drama for the slim crowd gathered on what started out to be a damp, rainy day Saturday. The sun popped out as the final flag flew, and for Ed Carpenter, the $100,000 pole prize was a good end to the day.

After the dust had settled from the “Fast Nine,” Carpenter, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, EJ Viso and AJ Allmendinger had improved their positions, while Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe slipped down on the grid.

Will Power dropped from his provisional pole to sixth, while Hinchcliffe’s run for ninth ended up slower than the tenth-place starter JR Hildebrand.

Confusing to some fans and at times frustrating to some teams, the schedule is designed to put some drama back into the qualifying process. But does it?

Some fans we spoke with said that they’d rather see this all done on one day as Formula One does, with cars eliminated as Q1,Q2 and Q3 play out.

So, we have a “not written in stone” plan. How about four rounds of qualifying, based on eliminating cars as the rounds progress as F1 does? All cars would make an attempt during Segment One in the morning, with positions 23-32 (yes, just 32) secured from that segment.

Segment Two would be held in the early afternoon for the remaining 22 cars, with spots 12-22 up for grabs.

Later in the afternoon the run for the pole and the first three rows would be contested for the remaining eleven cars.

One final segment after the “Fast Eleven” would invite back the cars that were eliminated in Segment One to make one last try to make the race by grabbing thirty-third spot.

Now we’d have drama during the pole run AND excitement as the final spot is fought for.

Some tweaks to the schedule would likely be needed when deciding which day (Saturday or Sunday) this format would be run on. Saturday would likely be best to allow for a rain date. The Freedom 100 could also be contested on Sunday along with an open practice. Prize money could be awarded for the fastest qualifier in each round.

My head hurts from thinking about all of this, but something needs to be done to bring more drama, more people and more competitors back to the track. Remember, back in the day (1960’s through the 90’s), Pole Day at the Speedway drew the second largest crowd for any sporting event in the U.S.; just behind the 500 itself.

Let’s do something to bring that crowd back. Send us YOUR suggestions.

• Indy Car’s TV contract with NBC Sports came back to hurt them Saturday when rain delayed qualifying and NBC Sports, by contract, had to televise the post-race coverage of the Preakness horse race.

• Despite Honda’s poor showing this weekend, a Honda rep at the track said that the company’s return to Formula 1 in 2015 would not influence any decision regarding their future in Indy Car racing.

• Our congratulations to friend and IMS Historian Donald Davidson who was recently named as one of five 2013 inductees to the Fairbanks Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place on Oct. 3. He has been a member of the IMS Radio Network since 1965 and is heard nightly in May on “The Talk of Gasoline Alley.”

• Will Power finished on top of the week’s combined practice sessions as qualifying began with a speed of 229.808 mph.

• Sixty-eight cars were listed on the qualifying roster Saturday. This, of course included 33 “training” or second cars for many teams.

• Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team manager Rob Edwards said that the focus on the team’s third car depended on getting Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier into the race on Saturday. “If we get to where we need to get with the two (cars), then we’ll have some fun tomorrow,” Edwards said. “But absolutely the focus is 100% on Simon’s and Tristan’s programs.” Pagenaud qualified twenty-first on Saturday, but Vautier will try again on Sunday.

• Later Saturday it was made official that Katherine Legge would take over the Schmidt Peterson #99 third car (now #81) with sponsorship by Angie’s List. She is the 34th driver (and the fourth woman) assigned to a car for the 500.

• After the Pole Day runs, Chevrolet held the top-ten spots in the field and 12 of the top 13.

• Panther Racing co-owner Dennis Reinbold talked about future plans for the team earlier this week. “We have Mecum Auctions back with us in 2014 so we are pretty certain of the Indianapolis 500 next year. They want to grow with us, and they have been a great supporter and sponsor. The Mecum Auctions are going on in Indianapolis this week and that’s great timing,” Reinbold noted. “It is also a cornerstone and gives us a jump start on everything else for 2014. We are building for the future again.”

• Four rookies are entered: Conor Daly, Tristan Vautier, AJ Allmendinger and Carlos Munoz. Only Allmendinger and Munoz are in the field as of the close of Pole Day runs.

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