Arie Luyendyk's all-time Indy 500 qualifying record average of 236.9868 mph from 1996 is now officially the new target of the IZOD IndyCar Series, along with a return to a more creative time for open-wheel racing.
Formally announced on Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the plan hatched by Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles will see the series open its restrictive, spec-minded rulebook to allow certain areas of technical freedom with an eye to restoring public interest for open-wheel racing.
Working in concert with soon-to-be INDYCAR president of competition Derrick Walker, Miles' plan is exactly what he shared with me earlier this year--one where an increase in speed would be achieved by every key performance provider bearing an equal share of the load.
Walker is close to announcing aero kit regulations, and along with those anticipated aero gains, the series hopes to find a few miles per hour with new bodywork, a few mph with an increase in engine power from Chevy and Honda, a few mph in tires from Firestone, and even Sunoco, suppliers of the watery E85 ethanol used by the Indy cars, has said it can deliver more potent fuel to drive power figures even higher.
I spoke with Walker at length on Friday and found the series’ new willingness to open its rulebook—even if baby steps are involved over the next few years—to be rather refreshing.
“The announcement was really to send a message we're going to change some things more than here’s 10 things we’ve decided upon and the dates by which they’ll be implemented,” he told SPEED.com. “That part will come, but we’re just trying to get the message out right now that we’re going ‘back to the future,’ as I’ve said a few times.
“It's going to take a while, and we think there's an element we need to go back to--not quite that far back--but within the confines of what we can control. One thing we don’t want to do is turn this into a wild frontier. The changes we're talking about is in the name of speed—and at the tracks where we can demonstrate a sizeable increase over time.”
The emphasis on breaking Luyendyk’s Indy record and setting new records at other ovals will serve as the backbone for IndyCar’s new initiative, but thankfully, Walker clarified the new technologies and speed components will be used across the entire IndyCar calendar.
“If you look at the ovals, clearly we can go for speed records there the easiest,” continued Walker. “It's measured by financials—what it will cost, safety improvements needed to make sure the extra speed can be achieved safely, and it also can't be forced. We can’t do this overnight and say that we’ve done it in a purposeful manner. We want it to happen gradually over time, and we know the low hanging fruit are the speedways.
“On the road and street courses, there are some places you can't do that, really; we're already going faster than ever at many of those tracks, but there could be some places where we can increase speeds and have it be seen and received by our fans. That’s what’s most important.”
Along with the formation of a new committee to come up with the means and methods to create additional speed, the series has also created a second committee to advance the present safety measures found trackside and with Indy cars as well.
“That’s a dual process we’re committed to,” said Walker. "You can’t have one without the other, and in many ways, while we know how to make the cars faster—it’s just a case of deciding which ones make the most sense to every party—there’s a possibility here to apply a fresh outlook on many safety areas that maybe have not had a group of individuals from many different areas in the sport sit down and address what can be done better. That’s an exciting development, I believe.”