Based on feedback from its drivers and teams, the NTT IndyCar Series will experiment on Friday at Road America by extending its 45-minute Free Practice 1 session to a full 75 minutes.
Unlike the new scheduling procedure where IndyCar has set aside 60 minutes to run the 45-minute sessions — giving it time to handle red flags without taking away from the time meant for practice — the 75-minute session will not have an added margin to accommodate any stoppages that might occur.
With a trend emerging in recent years where time on track has been reduced or the number of sessions have been cut, leading to a single, late 45-minute session on Fridays at most road and street courses, the paddock has grown dissatisfied with the relative inactivity on the opening days and the relatively brief amount of time spent on track. Owing to the fact that teams are already on site and more than capable of spending extra time on track without incurring significant additional costs, the series has responded by tacking on another 30 minutes to FP1.
Road America’s 3:25-4:40 p.m. CT Friday session will now serve as a test for the series to determine whether upcoming FP1s will receive the same extended treatment. Although teams will have the same allotment of tires for the weekend, one change will be made with the allowance of one set of Firestone’s faster alternate tires to be used on Friday.
The standard practice has been for a single set of the red-banded Firestones to be made available for the first time during FP2 on the second day of running — directly before qualifying — but for the Road America trial the alternate tire availability plan will shift to FP1. Per IndyCar, the alternate tires must be returned to Firestone after the session.
For many years, it’s not been uncommon for teams to sit on pit lane for decent portions of FP1 as they look to conserve tires for the remainder of the event. Bringing the use of alternate tires to go with the primary tires is meant to be an enticement to use more of the 75-minute window on track, but if the lengthier session leads to more idle time spent on pit lane, a return to the 45-minute sessions would be expected.