The NTT IndyCar Series is taking a different approach to its distribution of Firestone’s faster alternate tires at the first two street courses. It’s also trying something altogether new for the final oval race of the year at World Wide Technologies Raceway.
In 2022, IndyCar lengthened the duration of its opening practice sessions on road and street courses from 45 to 75 minutes, and as a part of that change, a new policy was implemented where teams were given one set of Firestone’s alternate that could only be used during the first session.
According to last year’s rules, that set of alternates had to be returned after the first session, and unlike in previous years, alternates were no longer allowed to be used in the second practice session prior to qualifying where teams saved them for late in the session to perform qualifying simulation runs.
To further incentivize teams to use as much as the opening 75-minute session as possible, IndyCar will experiment at St. Petersburg and Long Beach by making a second set of Firestone alternate tires available to the field. And in another change, the series has removed the restriction limiting the use of those alternates in the first session, giving teams greater latitude to decide on how they want to structure their run plans in both outings.
Without the requirement for the alternates to be used in the first practice session, it’s possible that some teams could limit their running during the 75-minute weekend opener and backload the second session, so with that possibility in mind, IndyCar has added another wrinkle by requiring all teams to return a set of primary tires – along with one of the alternate sets – prior to qualifying.
The call to make teams give back sets of primaries and alternates is another way to inspire more running in the first session since it would be a struggle to save both sets of alternates and a set of primaries to be used adequately in the 45-minute second session.
“We’re going to try this at St. Petersburg and Long Beach,” IndyCar president Jay Frye told RACER. “In 2022 there were more laps turned in the 75 minute opening practice sessions versus the previous 45 minute session – even without an extra set of tires.
“The additional set of tires will create flexibility and more opportunities to run so the teams can develop a strategy on how best to use the extra set [of alternates] before giving them – and a set of primaries – back prior to qualifying. We appreciate Firestone and the teams’ input on this change, which will provide INDYCAR fans even more action on track.”
If the new plan works as intended, look for it to be extended to more road and street courses on the calendar.
“It opens up some different avenues of interest to see how different teams use that rule tweak,” said Arrow McLaren team boss Gavin Ward. “I think it’s good to try something a little different, so I like it. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a little bit of an unknown on what people will do at this point, but I like that.”
And at World Wide Technology Raceway in August, an idea IndyCar and Firestone has had in the works for years will finally become a reality as the series will hold its first oval race where Firestone’s alternate tires will be used. In the rules outlined for WWTR’s 1.25-mile oval, teams must use one set of alternates in practice and one set in the race.
According to Cara Krystolic, Bridgestone/Firestone’s director of race tire engineering and production, the WWTR alternates will not be a derivative of any alternate tires used on road and street courses. As Krystolic told RACER, the oval alternates will be specific to WWTR and in the range of the softest tires Firestone have previously used at WWTR with more durable compounds.