IRL: Officials prepare for challenge of 30-plus cars in 2003

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2002 -- As the Indy Racing League enters its eighth season of exciting competition, the series has grown larger than ever before. And while the growth and momentum of the league certainly bodes well for the future, ...

IRL: Officials prepare for challenge of 30-plus cars in 2003

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2002 -- As the Indy Racing League enters its eighth season of exciting competition, the series has grown larger than ever before.

And while the growth and momentum of the league certainly bodes well for the future, there are some logistical issues arising with the idea of 31 to 32 cars possibly attempting to qualify per event outside of the Indianapolis 500, according to Brian Barnhart, senior vice president of operations for the Indy Racing League.

That, coupled with three engine manufacturers, Chevrolet, Honda and Toyota, three chassis manufacturers, Dallara, Falcon and Panoz G Force, and Firestone, the exclusive tire of Indy Racing, means paddock and pit space will be tight at some of the 15 tracks where the IRL competes.

"This is just a logistical issue," Barnhart said. "Having more cars means more quality cars and more depth in the field."

In 2002, an average of 25 cars competed in every IRL race, the largest number of any major open-wheel series.

Each of the more than 30 cars that would potentially attempt to qualify, starting with the season opener March 2, 2003 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, would have one transporter at each race, as would the seven manufacturers and the Indy Racing League, giving Barnhart and his staff nearly 40 transporters to park on a race weekend.

"At some racetracks, the facility just isn't as large as it is at others," Barnhart said. "Some of the older places don't have enough room for them. From a garage standpoint and a transporter-parking standpoint, we have a very full and tight paddock situation. That just makes it difficult from a logistical standpoint."

Pit road is also an issue that Barnhart and his staff are quickly looking to address, giving each team plenty of working space to produce the competitive racing that has become the hallmark of Indy Racing.

All but one track at which the IRL will compete in 2003, Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, plays host to either a NASCAR Winston Cup or Busch Series event, which sometimes requires 43 pit spaces that are normally 28-29 feet long, Barnhart said. However, Indy Racing League pit boxes are required to be a minimum of 36 feet long, which would result in few "Indy Racing" pit boxes being available.

"The reason we need a longer pit box than a Winston Cup car needs is because we refuel the cars from fuel tanks with fuel hoses, rather than a free-standing can where a guy can run anywhere he needs to, to plug the can in to fuel the car," Barnhart said.

"Because the hose can only reach so far, the pit box needs to be large enough so that the car can get in and get out safely as well as be positioned in the box so that the hose can safely be coupled to the car during the refueling process.

"And because some pit boxes are used for timing and scoring and used by officials and safety workers, there is an issue with making sure each team has as plenty of room to work safely."

Barnhart said one solution being considered for shorter tracks is the possibility of two cars sharing one pit box.

"I've seen it done in NASCAR successfully, and we are looking at the pros and cons," Barnhart said. "We've been looking at each track on an individual basis. John Lewis (director of operations for the IRL) has CAD/CAM drawings of all the racetracks and all of the pit roads, and we're trying to figure out what we can do to accommodate more cars in the garage area, paddock-wise as well on pit road.

"The racetrack, while the cars are actually at speed, it not really an issue. We're going to see what we can find out and what we can do to increase the number of cars that we can put on pit road and start each event."

And while the issues maybe tough at times to resolve, it's an issue that Barnhart and his staff enjoy having.

"The more cars you can put on the track, the better you can improve the entertainment value for the fans," Barnhart said. "There's no way I would describe this in any way, shape or form as a problem.

"This is a sign of growth, momentum and excellence."

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