INDIANAPOLIS – The Verizon IndyCar Series made a whole slew of competition announcements on Tuesday afternoon and among the changes are the amount of championship points earned for Indianapolis 500 qualifying. To me, that’s the biggest change in my opinion. Here’s why.
Qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil are set for May 19-20, a week ahead of the 102nd running of the race on May 27. This year, driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.
While race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season finale, the Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant, which I’m fine with, taking the danger element out of the amount of points awarded the last several years helps tremendously.
The points available to win last year’s pole?
The amount of points available to win a race out of Indy or Sonoma before bonus points?
Second place in that said race would get 40 points.
So, to win the pole for the ‘500 prior to this year, you basically get a race win. It trickles down for every qualifying spot from there, down to 33. Graham Rahal told me back in May that he lost 89 points to Alexander Rossi during the Month of May in 2016 due to qualifying points and double points in the race. He blamed the points available for qualifying as to why Sebastien Bourdais was involved in such a horrific crash like he was on the first day of Time Trails in 2017.
“Yeah I hate the points, the points are pointless,” Rahal told me regarding points awarded for qualifying at Indy. “Why this qualifying is as much as a race is beyond me. You look at a guy like Sebastien (Bourdais), this could put him in a world of hurt, as a championship perspective. There should be no points, we’re all hanging it out there, hanging our ass out there and we don’t need to be rewarded for something like that. To me it’s just stupid. Plus, we all know, sometimes you get cars that are a little bit quicker than others. It’s the truth. Why should there be points.
“A championship shouldn’t be decided by qualifying for the Indy 500.”
Now, they’re not.
When I was talking to Rahal, the Bourdais crash was actually happening behind us. Rahal’s back was turned to the videoboards. Just by the moans of the crowd and the look in my eyes, Rahal knew something bad happened. That prompted him to go on this statement about it. In fact, he described the crash to me almost to a T and he never saw the replay. He didn’t want to. He said that drivers aren’t lifting in areas they should because of how many points they’re rewarded. If they lift, they could lose valuable championship points. If they stay on the throttle, they risk their lives, but they also could correct a mistake and be on a pole run, a championship winning one at that.
That’s what Bourdais did in 2017. He even said so.
“I knew we had a great car,” Bourdais admitted just eight days after suffering 118gs in a wicked Turn 2 crash. “I’ve never been in that position before (a pole contending car at Indy) and I didn’t want to lift. Maybe I should have, but it’s too late for that.
“Nothing broke in the car. A lot of little factors honestly. Me being stubborn about it. I had all these baby lifts all month long and we lift on that. We called it the chicken leg. There was no chicken leg on the qualifying run.”
See, Bourdais entered the Month of May as a true title contender and this crash was a reason of circumstances. He won the season opener at St. Pete, then finished second in the next race at Long Beach. He had an eighth place run at Barber the race after that. But, a first lap accident at Phoenix and a blown engine on Lap 3 of the GP of Indy, those results relegated him to 19th and 22nd place finishes respectively entering the ‘500.
But, being among the fastest cars in qualifying setup, mixed with being nearly a full mph quicker than anyone else after two laps of his qualifying run, meant that with the slightest of a bobble like he had, he was staying in the throttle. Take away all those qualifying points, I think Bourdais lifts to save it.
Rahal and other drivers think so too.
So, with taking away all those points, it should make qualifying for this year’s ‘500 all that more worthwhile for the drivers.