IndyCar is considering small changes to its current knockout qualifying format for next season in order to better handle the expected increase in participants.
The current format, which is used for most road and street events, is a three-tier arrangement. In it, the 12 fastest drivers advance to the second qualifying round, and from there a final ‘Fast 6’ session determines the front three rows.
The initial round has traditionally been broken into two groups of cars, but as the field is set to grow to near 30 entrants on any given weekend, that could make for a very busy track at the start of qualifying.
IndyCar president Jay Frye talked with RACER recently, and explained how the increasing car count is forcing the series to consider modifying the format.
“An increased car count is a great problem to have,” Frye told RACER. “So how do we manage that? What does that look like?
“In knockout qualifying, where sometimes it’s too busy with cars on track, maybe there’s a way to have the same amount of cars on the track all the time. So say there’s 27 cars, you would have nine cars go out, three cars advance. You have nine more cars go, three cars advance, and then the last session where three cars advance.
“Then instead of having a Fast Six, you’d have a Fast Nine. So that also matches up with the Indy 500’s Fast Nine qualifying, and then we’ve got the 500 and the road and street courses are the same.
“There were times last year as we got up to 27 or 28 cars where the track was very busy in qualifying. I mean, very busy. So we want to get ahead of this and make it easier for our drivers to set their laps without being on top of each other.”
The as-yet unconfirmed changes would leave the same number of total sessions, but the fastest qualifiers from each initial group would be directly promoted to the final Fast Nine and would battle each other for pole.
At some events this past year, lap times from the second session that included 12 cars directly set the front of the grid, with the final round removed for time considerations. This adjustment worked well, and closely mirrors the proposal for next season.
“We’ve done this a couple different ways last couple years, based off of the things that we’ve been dealt, like we shortened the overall length of the knockout qualifying process,” continued Frye.
“We’ve had that the last couple years and like the faster approach, so we’re just looking ahead and figuring out how we should do it as the car count is expanding.”
Finer details of the proposal are still being worked through, and any changes would have to be approved by team managers and drivers before being finalized.