Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The IndyCar Qualifying Format Change Proposal You Are Going to Hate... Or Like

Talking about qualifying seems to be all the rage in 2016. From Formula One having no idea what it is doing with its qualifying format to Chevrolets dominating qualifying in IndyCar, all anyone wants to talk about anymore is qualifying. And to think NASCAR was revolutionary and got all its talk about qualifying done last year. All we need is FIA World Endurance Championship or IMSA to know something interesting like changing it so qualifying is two laps with a driver change occurring at the end of lap one.

While everyone else talks, I think and something occurred to me. IndyCar fans seem discontent with the Chevrolet dominance. Some just aren't happy because it makes the race seem predictable. When half the field is at a perceived disadvantage, people are discouraged from even watching. However, as much as people hate total dominance, people hate just as much leveling the playing field. You suggest making it even and people get upset because it's not laissez-faire. They hate that Chevrolet is dominating but they hate it even more if Honda's gain on Chevrolet comes because of concessions made by IndyCar.

It is a double-edged sword and IndyCar always ends up shedding blood even if Honda had a chance to improve its aero kit and failed to make up any ground. Formula One is trying to mix up its grid while IndyCar are kind of in the same boat but not willing to admit it.

With IndyCar's next three races being Long Beach, Barber and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the qualifying format will be the three-round, Fast Six knockout format to line-up the grid. IndyCar was the first series to come up with the knockout format and whoever came up with the idea should be paid a million dollars because Formula One copied it a year later and NASCAR followed suit a decade later. It is a great format.

However, what if that format could be used to mix up the IndyCar grids? Formula One made its qualifying changes this year hoping to mix up the grid and lead for more interesting races and that has not been the case. After Chevrolet took the top ten starting positions at Phoenix, maybe IndyCar should be trying to do the same.

Here is the proposal:
Keep the current format for road and street courses and adopt it for all oval races that aren't the Indianapolis 500.
For round one, one group will feature all the Chevrolet entries and the other will feature all the Honda entries. The top six from each group advances to round two.
For round two, instead of having a combined 12-car session, have one group for the six Chevrolets advancing from round one and the six Hondas from round two. Each group will get seven minutes and the top three from each group advances to round three.
Round three would stay the same with the top three Chevrolets and the top three Hondas combining for the final six-minute session to set the first three rows of the grid.

That would mix up a grid and give Honda a better shot at competing without allowing the manufacture to make more adjustments to its aero kits or allowing the Honda to run a little more turbo boost and getting into the murky waters of Balance of Performance.

One Chevrolet and one Honda would be on each row from row four to the last row on the grid. There would definitely be passing and the Hondas would be given the opportunity to compete at the front. There would be a drawback. If the aero kits are one rabbit hole, this change to the qualifying format would be another. What would happen if IndyCar changed and broke down groups by manufacture and then went back to groups set by up practice speeds and Hondas end up taking eight of the top ten? Chevrolet will be expecting the same type of treatment. What if a third manufacture ever enters IndyCar? The entire format would have to be thrown, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because with a third manufacture the chances of one engine manufacture sweeping the top ten would be lower than with two manufactures. Of course, a third manufacture entering IndyCar is like the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series: We keep waiting for it to happen and it never comes to fruition.

I think most will hate this idea but I am sure there are some who will like it. After all, in a series where drivers don't have to worrying about failing to qualify for 15 of 16 races, why not have it so the field is a little mixed up at the start? Keep the Indianapolis 500 the way it is because it is the one race a driver could fail to make but for the other 15 races, why not make it interesting without penalizing drivers for being successful or setting the field by Ping-Pong balls?