IRL officials hoping rules changes tighten competition in '08

Updated: January 16, 2008, 3:24 PM ET

AP Photo/Ben Margot

A slightly altered road course at Infineon Raceway will greet the IndyCar contingent in 2008.

Changes In Store For 2008

The Indy Racing League is set to unveil a series of small rules changes intended to create closer competition and strategic intrigue in the 2008 IndyCar Series.

All 11 oval tracks will now use the qualification format made famous by the Indianapolis 500, and grid positions will be determined by a driver's average speed over four laps.

And although nothing can approach the pressure and challenge that are a hallmark of a 10-mile run for the pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the four-lap format should spice up qualifying and possibly shake up the order at a few of the IRL's more driver-oriented ovals like Richmond International Raceway and Twin Ring Motegi.

The IndyCar Series' unique road-racing qualifying format, in which single-lap runs establish the Firestone Fast Six for 10 minutes of free track time, will carry over at the series' five road and street courses.

During the offseason, series officials staged test days at Iowa Speedway and Infineon Raceway to assess methods of making races at those tracks more entertaining. The results: a revised aerodynamic package for the 0.875-mile Iowa oval, and a slightly altered track layout for Infineon's variable road course.

"What I'd like to see is if by staying straight we create a harder braking area and thus a better passing zone going into Turn 7," said IndyCar Series chief steward Brian Barnhart.

The Dallara chassis introduced in 2003 and the ethanol-powered 3.5-liter Honda engine continue without significant changes. But control of the fuel mixture will be returned to drivers and teams, and drivers will benefit from a Formula 1-inspired paddle shift mechanism

"We've been working on a new silencer as well, to further reduce engine noise, but that project is not yet ready for racing," said Robert Clarke, president of Honda Performance Development. "Further improvement in engine life is also targeted."

The IndyCar Series is also close to announcing two major marketing initiatives expected to involve Coca-Cola and Mac Tools.

Teams are allowed two private test days prior to Feb. 20, with official test sessions set for Homestead-Miami Speedway (Feb. 27-28) and Sebring International Raceway (March 2-5). The IndyCar Series season kicks off under the lights at Homestead on March 29.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.

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Drivers Show Up In Force

Kanaan

More than 60 prospective IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series drivers turned out for the IRL's preseason meetings in Indianapolis.

Sixty-six pilots -- ranging from IndyCar Series regulars like Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon to Champ Car free agents Dan Clarke and Nelson Philippe -- passed the physical examination that is mandatory for IRL and Indianapolis 500 participation.

One notable no show for the session was two-time IndyCar race winner Tomas Scheckter, who has not yet re-signed with Vision Racing.

Scheckter, 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice and Sarah Fisher are the most notable IndyCar series regulars who are still seeking a ride for 2008.

IndyCar Series Going Hi-Def on ESPN

All 16 IndyCar Series races will be televised in high definition in 2008 on the ESPN family of networks. Series and network officials said the development of a high-quality in-car camera, developed in conjunction with Broadcast Sports Inc., was the biggest challenge they faced.

"We are extremely pleased to be working in conjunction with ESPN to showcase the speed and excitement of IndyCar Series racing in the clarity and widescreen format of high-definition television," said Terry Angstadt, president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League. "The addition of the 360-degree, onboard camera for the first time in the United States continues the IndyCar Series' role as a leader in innovation and technology while offering our teams added value for their sponsors."

"Taking our coverage to the next level with high definition has been a priority for us and the series, and will enhance the breadth of our HD services," added Bryan Burns, ESPN vice president, strategic business planning and development. "We're happy that sports fans will be able to reap the rewards all season."