In an unusual twist, Indy Racing League officials have altered the bonus points awarded during an IndyCar Series race weekend to match that already employed by the Firestone Indy Lights series.
Where changes are normally made to bring the supporting cast in line with the leading lady, this year's IndyCar Series will now feature a reduced two-point bonus for leading the most laps, with one point now up for grabs for the polewinner. It is the first time since 2000 that points will be awarded for qualifying performance as, from the 2001 season, all three bonus points were handed to the leader of the most laps.
It was confirmed that the pole winner will continue to receive the $10,000 PEAK Performance Pole Award prize for all races other than the 93rd Indianapolis 500, where a separate $100,000 bonus is on offer.
“The fight for the pole is full of drama on ovals, and on road and street courses,” explained series competitions president Brian Barnhart, “so it seems appropriate that the driver who can survive four laps driving on the edge on ovals, or who can make it through three elimination rounds on road and street courses, be rewarded for their efforts with a point towards the championship.”
The point system for each race - which descends from 50 for first place through 40 for second, 35 for third, and so on – remains unchanged, and the alteration to the bonus system has received support from those chasing the points.
“I think it's great that you're rewarded for pole position because it is such hard work and so difficult to get a pole in this series,” Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe, who won three poles in 2008, noted, ” It's sort of the first race of the weekend, so to earn a point for it gives you a little more satisfaction.”
Applying the new system to the past three seasons would not alter the outcome of the title fight - in as far as Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr would keep their crowns for 2008, '07 and '06 respectively - but it is interesting to note the 2006 battle would have resulted in a tie involving Helio Castroneves rather than Dan Wheldon.
Hornish would have received six points for leading most laps and four for poles, while Wheldon would have lost two from his original total with eight points for laps led and two for poles. Castroneves, meanwhile, would have received four points for laps led and five for poles, boosting his tally by three to share first place on 476 with Hornish. Unable to be separated in terms of race wins and second places - both had four and one respectively - Hornish eventually 'keeps' his title by having two third-place finishes to Castroneves' one.
For the record, last year's winning margin between Dixon and Castroneves would have increased from 17 to 21, while Franchitti's 13-point triumph over the Dixon, following the Kiwi's agonising last corner hiccup, would shrink to eleven as the Scot's total drops by two.