The IZOD IndyCar Series has confirmed that there will be changes to this year's track layouts for the the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on the last weekend of August and the Grand Prix of Baltimore at the start of September.
Construction on the 2-mile, 12-turn temporary street circuit in Baltimore started on Monday ahead of the race on September 2, and officials confirmed that the main straightaway on Pratt Street would no longer include a chicane, turn 1 would be widened and the shape of turns 5 and 6 - which includes in the pit entry - would be reconfigured for this year's second holding of the event.
"I talked to a number of drivers to get their thoughts about the chicane and the recommendation was with some grinding it would speed the cars up going into Turn 1 about 7 mph," said IndyCar's Tony Cotman, whose company NZR Consulting contracted to build the circuit. "Without the chicane I think it will improve the show with a longer run into turn 1, which will be widened to create a better passing zone and will be a good viewing place.
"Then we looked at turns 5 and 6, which was a difficult combination last year, and we'll change the shape of the corner, which may entice some passing. There is terrace seating there that puts the track right under their noses. There are some other subtle changes like the shapes of walls."
The intention is to add additional overtaking opportunities and improve competition for the race, which was a big success in its début on the IndyCar calendar in 2011. However, disputes between the original race promoters and the local authorities had left the event in doubt for 2012 until new promoters were appointed in February.
There had been no doubts about the series' return to Sonoma Raceway in California, although the name itself will seem unfamiliar for the circuit formerly known as Sears Point and most recently as Infineon Raceway. The ten-year naming deal with Infineon Technologies came to an end in June, and the venue is now going by the name of Sonoma until a new naming rights deal is signed.
Last year's IndyCar race at Sonoma was memorable for an almost complete lack of incident, with the three Penske drivers starting and finishing in the same order in a top-three lock-out. Race organisers have made a number of changes to the circuit for this year's race, which will be held on August 26 a week before Baltimore.
The run down to the hairpin turn 11 will be lengthened by 200 feet to make a deeper turn giving drivers more opportunity to out=brake their competitors, or to get a better run out of the turn and set up a pass into turn 12. The exit from the Bus Stop (turn 9) will be widened, and turn 7 has been remodelled into a new hairpin.
As a result of the changes, Sonoma will now be a 12-turn, 2.31-mile track, with organisers stressing that the changes had been made with made with the input of the drivers to improve the on-track action.
“The modifications to the Sonoma track layout will enhance the competition on the track, making it a better show for the fans and more challenging for the drivers,” said IndyCar director of operations Bill Van de Sandt.
“This was something we worked on in the offseason and I think it is really going to make for some exciting racing,” agreed last year's race winner Will Power, who will be among 23 drivers to spend a day testing the new layout for the first time on August 17 before the race weekend.