Welcome back for another installment of Open-Wheels’ IndyCar Round-Up, where we recap some of the most important IndyCar headlines from the past week. Over the holiday there were a handful of rule changes within IndyCar and a legal dispute settled between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and a former Mazda Road to Indy driver.
There was even a number announcement for the Carlin Racing team, with Charlie Kimball piloting the no. 23 entry and Max Chilton in the no. 59 car. Without further ado, let’s jump into this week’s IndyCar Round-Up!
IndyCar Adjusts Oval Qualifying Procedure
After some clamoring from its drivers, the Verizon IndyCar Series announced on December 24 that it would be changing how it determines qualifying order for its oval track races. In years prior, teams lined up for qualifying on ovals by random draw. In 2018 that process will be altered.
Aside from the Indianapolis 500 – which will continue to utilize the traditional random draw set after Fast Friday practice – oval qualifying order will be determined by entrant points.
IndyCar president of competition and operations Jay Frye discussed with Racer Magazine some of the changes and how the determination was made. Frye spoke of a desire to “eliminate randomness” when asked about doing away with the qualifying order,
Frye also explained that “the idea of going off entrant points was the only one that had unanimous support from our team owners when we proposed it. So that’s what we’ll do moving forward.”
With Ed Carpenter Racing switching drivers between the opening two races, and teams like Michael Shank Racing competing part-time throughout the year, the qualifying order for Phoenix will be a major topic of interest. Add in the unpredictability of the new aero kit, and the March 11 season opener at St. Petersburg could be even more stressful, both before and after the race.
Indianapolis 500 Qualification Points Reduced for 2018
Sticking with the qualifying theme, IndyCar announced on December 22 that points awarded for Indianapolis 500 qualifications would be drastically reduced.
A stark contrast to the system in place up to 2017, next year’s pole winner at the 102nd Indianapolis 500 will receive 9 points for their efforts. The second place qualifier picks up 8 points, third place 7 points, and so on down to 9th place, who will gain one point for making the Fast Nine shootout on day two of qualifications.
In the final year of the old Indianapolis point format, Scott Dixon pocketed 42 points this past May by winning the pole for the 101st Indianapolis 500. Many drivers, after on-the-edge qualifying runs in 2017, stated that the massive bulk of points for qualifications was unneccessary and that teams were already pushing hard for their starting position in the race.
In early December, IndyCar president of competition and operations Jay Frye echoed these sentiments. “With qualifying points so high, and then double-points in the race, you’re offering two-and-a-half times our regular points,” he told Motorsport.com. “The thing is, I don’t think Indy needs that.”
What is interesting is many fans that have stepped up in defense of the large qualifying point totals for Indianapolis have generally be against the double points that the race – and the season finale at Sonoma – rewards.
Reducing the total down to a more reasonable nine points for Indianapolis 500 pole (compared to the one point awarded at other events for pole) seems to be the most logical thing to do moving forward.
The points awarded for Indianapolis qualifying were hardly a storyline anyhow, so let the Fast Nine and the fight for the pole be the centerpiece for time trials and move on like things always have.
Tire Allotment Changes Announced
On December 28, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations Jay Frye announced that teams outside of the top ten in points will no longer be able to purchase an extra set of Firestone tires for opening practice on road and street courses.
Speaking to Racer Magazine, Frye noted that it would create a situation where “more than half the field would be getting an extra set of tires, and that seemed like it was a bit much.”
Frye also cited the closeness of the drivers’ championship for making the change, saying that a situation where the driver in 11th could get an extra set despite being only a small number of points behind the 10th place driver.
In this instance, giving the 11th place driver an extra set of tires was “getting hard to justify,” said Frye.
The last reason Frye gave for the change was that teams were still conserving these tires for races, where the series had hoped an extra set would be an incentive for the teams to run more practice laps and have more cars on track for the fans to watch.
Frye expressed disappointment the idea had not panned out, but did say the series was looking at ways to improve that aspect of the weekend.
Remaining the same from 2017, rookies will get an extra set at every road and street course event except for the season finale in Sonoma, as well as every open test organized by the series.
Additionally, Firestone adjusted the number of primary tire sets for Phoenix, Detroit, Texas, Iowa and Toronto. IndyCar came to this determination after the series and Firestone analyzed which tracks would benefit from an extra set of tires. These changes also help clean up inconsistencies between individual weekend allotments.
Tire wear became a major factor during the June race in Texas and the primary/alternate tire strategy has always been a headline during road and street circuit events. An altered tire allotment for teams at these tracks will play heavily into weekend strategy as always and an extra set for rookies could be a big advantage with the new aero kit.
R.C. Enerson, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Settle Legal Dispute
This week a long-standing legal dispute between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and their former Indy Lights driver R.C. Enerson, as well as sponsor Team Enerson Racing LLC, came to a close. The settlement comes more than a year after lawsuits were filed on both sides after a controversial split during the 2016 Indy Lights season.
The dispute started when the Enersons departed SPM’s Indy Lights program after just 8 of 18 rounds. Father Neil Enerson and driver R.C. left the program to pursue an opportunity in the Verizon IndyCar Series, while still owing an estimated $500,000 to Schmidt Peterson, according to Racer Magazine.
“We are pleased to have this situation behind us,” Schmidt Peterson Motorsports explained in a statement. “For the record, the terms of our contract with the Enersons provided for early exit and that is what happened in this matter.
“As the terms of the settlement agreement are confidential, we will have no further comment on this matter. R.C. is a talented driver and we wish him nothing but the best in the future.”
After leaving Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Enerson would go on to drive in three races during the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season for Dale Coyne Racing. He would post a best finish of ninth at Watkins Glen.
Enerson did not drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017.
With the legal dispute now behind him, Enerson can shift his attention back to driving in IndyCar. Although his career may have taken a significant hit with the long-standing legal issues, Enerson has shown flashes of promise in his Mazda Road to Indy performances and could do so again in IndyCar if a team is willing to give him an opportunity down the road.