The IndyCar Series has announced that it intends to maintain competition, and spread it wide, for as long as possible this season, by allowing those teams off the pace in terms of points to get extra preparation time at race weekends.
According to the series' official website, more than half the field will receive bonus track time on race weekends, with either 30 or 45 minutes of additional practice being scheduled for rookies and entrants outside the top ten in points. Aside from the opener in St Petersburg, the only event not to be included in the proposal is the Indianapolis 500, which benefits from more pre-race track time than any other on the schedule thanks to the traditional 'month of May' build-up. The 'bonus time' programme will begin at round two of the season, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the weekend of 19 April.
''We're trying things that help encourage new drivers in the series, in particular drivers advancing from Firestone Indy Lights,'' president of competition Brian Barnhart explained, ''With the economy the way it is, and with limited testing, one of the by-products is that teams can't afford to - or, through the rules, just can't - test very often, which makes an owner less inclined to take a chance on an unproven driver or rookie.
''So you respond with extra track time that doesn't cost anything as it's at a race event weekend. If you're out of the top ten in points, it's more of a competition issue. Instead of going testing, we're trying to give an opportunity to close the gap on the top ten in points by giving extra track time.''