Drivers Hope Rule Changes Make Indy 500 More Competitive - aftermarketNews

Drivers Hope Rule Changes Make Indy 500 More Competitive

Don't be alarmed to see cars going slower around Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month. It's intentional, and depending on which driver is talking, not necessarily a bad thing.

USA TODAY — Don’t be alarmed to see cars going slower around Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month. It’s intentional, and depending on which driver is talking, not necessarily a bad thing.

Especially if it results in safer, more exciting racing, which will be the biggest upside to a new aerodynamic package beginning with this year’s Indianapolis 500. Practice for the 88th edition on May 30 begins Sunday with engines reduced from 3.5 to 3 liters and wings altered in an effort to prevent scenes such as last fall’s scary wreck at Texas that seriously injured driver Kenny Brack, the 1999 race winner.

The initial effect could be speeds five to seven miles-per-hour slower than last year, when Helio Castroneves peeled off a pole-winning fast lap of 231.732 mph. What drivers hope is that it levels the 2.5-mile landscape, particularly on race day.

“The goal was reducing speed, and the league has responded well with these aero changes,” driver Scott Sharp said. ”They’ve made the cars sensitive enough, but it still takes a good challenge to gain speed.”

If recent tests suggest anything, the usual suspects will set the pace. Three-time defending champion Team Penske led the way as drivers Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. — who succeeded retired Gil de Ferran, the 2003 winner — broke 220 mph in Toyotas.

Reigning IRL IndyCar champion Scott Dixon was among the four fastest in Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Toyota, and Honda and Chevrolet showed promise respectively behind Andretti Green driver Dan Wheldon and Panther Racing’s Tomas Scheckter. A week of practice could pack the top even more before pole qualifying on May 15, which will determine who’s made the biggest surge.

”As many years as I’ve been there and the way the rules have been since 1996 (when the IRL began), it’s been pretty close,” said two-time winner Al Unser Jr., who will drive for Patrick Racing. ”Everybody’s so equal, it’s going to be the guy who works through traffic, pits well and has lady luck with them that wins the race.”

Filling the 33-car field could still be an issue. This year marks the return of Newman-Haas Racing, a Champ Car World Series team that hasn’t raced at the Brickyard since the IRL/CART split in 1996. Its top driver is Brazilian Bruno Junqueira, who finished fifth as a rookie in 2001 and won the pole in 2002, leading 87 laps before his engine failed. But two of the IRL’s founding teams — PDM Racing and Hemelgarn Racing — will not be running this year.

Full-time NASCAR driver Robby Gordon, who started third last year, will attempt to complete his fourth Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 double. The rookie class includes Ed Carpenter, Darren Manning, Mark Taylor and Arie Luyendyk Jr., whose father won Indy twice.

Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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