The New Indy Pole Day: Goofy, Or Stroke Of Genius?

HAMMOND,IN: Traditionalist’s may have trouble accepting the new Pole Day procedures at Indy next month but, this time, the Speedway just may have hit a home run!

Problem: how do you assure the the “Run for the Pole” appears on live TV?

Solution: a 90 minute Pole Shootout from 4:30 to 6PM!

A substantial increase in prize money also will be offered to the pole winner, with money also awarded to the other two front-row qualifiers. IZOD IndyCar Series points also will be awarded after qualifying to all 33 drivers who earn a spot in the starting field.

“This new format for Indianapolis 500 qualifying will deliver even more action and intensity for fans,” said Jeff Belskus, president and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. “Drivers will go all out during the first session on Pole Day to get a chance to make a run for the pole. Then they’ll need to dig even deeper to find the speed for the pole in the last 90 minutes. Plus there still will be plenty of spots up for grabs on Bump Day, with all of the dramatic, last-minute bumping that generations of fans have loved about Indy.

“This is going to be a fantastic weekend of qualifying. I can’t wait to see it unfold.”

The top 24 spots in the 33-car field will be available through traditional four-lap attempts from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (ET) on Pole Day. Each car will have up to three attempts during that time.

The times of the top nine drivers from the first segment of qualifying will be erased at 4 p.m., with all of those competitors guaranteed to start no worse than ninth in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 30.

“The Fast Nine” then will be required to make at least one four-lap qualifying attempt between 4:30-6 p.m., with one additional, optional attempt if time permits. Each driver’s best run during the 90-minute session will set their position within the top nine spots on the starting grid.

If inclement weather prevents the 90-minute shootout for the “Fast Nine,” their times from the opening session will determine starting positions.

The winner of the PEAK Performance Pole Award presented by AutoZone will earn $175,000, an increase of $75,000 from 2009. The second-fastest qualifier will earn $75,000, with the final front-row starter earning $50,000.

In a departure from the other 16 IZOD IndyCar Series races, in which the PEAK Performance Pole Award winner earns one bonus point, all 33 starting drivers will receive championship points. The pole winner will receive 15 points, with the other front-row starters earning 13 and 12 points, respectively. Drivers in Rows 2 and 3 will receive, in descending order, between 11 and six points. Positions 10-24 receive four bonus points, and 25-33 earn three points.

“The rewards of the qualifying format help to make the Indianapolis 500 the most important race on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for the sanctioning Indy Racing League. “Teams and drivers in the shootout will have to make a decision after their initial run in the ‘Fast Nine’ segment whether they want to attempt to move up on the grid with a final attempt. Not only would they potentially have a higher starting position, but they would accumulate more bonus points that could come into play later in the season in the driver championship.”

If all goes according to plan, this new procedure should insure an exciting and action-packed weekend at the old Speedway. But…as usual…the unpredictable weather in Central Indiana during May could turn out to be the big story. If the Pole Day proceedings are interrupted in any way by the weather, it will be anybody’s guess how the event will play out.

And now…stay tuned for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing…weather permitting!

IMS Media Services contributed to this article.

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