Facing an increase in entries at a number of venues in 2020, the NTT IndyCar Series is working with a few of its event promoters to find ways to accommodate extra cars at circuits where modest pit lane real estate has a potential to limit the car count.
Next week’s season-opener on the streets of St. Petersburg is expected to feature 26 entries, up two from 2019, with 24 full-time cars and two part-time entries on the grid. Using the available space on the blended airport runway and city streets, Green Savoree Racing Promotions is able to provide the 26 pit boxes required, but challenges await GSRP at Toronto and Mid-Ohio if teams attempt to enter extra cars at those venues.
A&D Narigi LLC, the new steward of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, is another promoter whose pit lane could be stretched to its limit to house upwards of 28 projected entries for IndyCar’s season finale. The series’ return to Monterey in 2019 featured 24 cars.
Last year in Toronto, 22 cars turned up to race, which made for a manageable situation on a pit lane capable of holding 23 cars. But with an increase to 24 full-timers, and a potential increase in desired entries – including hometown hero James Hinchcliffe – that could lead to overcrowding, teams have been hesitant to commit extra cars in Toronto until a solution is provided.
IndyCar and GSRP, who have an upcoming meeting to address the matter, are faced with a need to either reconfigure pit lane to accept more cars, or trigger a pre-qualifying rule that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.
Under the ‘Provisional Starting Cars’ section of the rule book, Rule 18.104.22.168 states ‘Except at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, INDYCAR may offer Provisional Starting Cars at any Event if the total number of Entries for the Event exceeds the available pit space. If Provisional Starting Cars are offered, INDYCAR shall issue a bulletin detailing the Qualifications procedures and Starting Lineup prior to the first practice session.’
In its most recent guise, pre-qualifying was needed in the late 1990s when the CART IndyCar Series swelled with entries and faced the same pit lane space issues. According to IndyCar president Jay Frye, there’s a determination to add more pit boxes at Toronto and any other event on the calendar that could signal the need for Rule 22.214.171.124.
“Teams call us and give us a heads up on what they think is possible for how many extra cars they might bring, so we’re looking at the tracks where we’re getting up against the maximum, and what kind of adjustments we can apply,” Frye told RACER.
“We’ve come up with four or five proposals to address this, and this is something that has been percolating for a few years with car counts growing, so it’s been something we’ve prepared to act on once the counts got high enough.”
Frye says there’s nothing on the early portion of IndyCar’s 17-race schedule that will cause problems with accepting every entry.
“For some of the tracks where pit space has been on our radar, we have time to act because none of them are in the immediate part of the schedule, but we’re working to address those areas now so they aren’t an issue when we get there,” he said. “Having bigger entries is a great problem to have, so we’re working with our promoters to resolve any problems now because we only expect more cars to be on the way in the future.”