The Indy Racing League, better known as IRL, is the sanctioning body of a predominantly American based open-wheel racing series. Its centerpiece is the Indianapolis 500. The IRL is owned by Hulman and Co., which also owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway complex. The IRL was founded in 1994 by Tony George and began racing in 1996. It was created with a breakaway group of drivers from CART, which had sanctioned Indy car racing since 1979, who incidently, had broken away from USAC. George blueprinted the IRL as a lower-cost open-wheel alternative to CART, which had come to be technology-driven and dominated by a few wealthy multi-car teams, much like Formula One. The IRL developed a consistent engine package and chassis rules which have produced some of the closest finishes in any racing series. Ironically, the series is now dominated by many of the same wealthy multi-car teams that once dominated CART.
The series initially raced exclusively on oval tracks, as the league was founded partly in response to the increasing prominence of road and street courses on the CART schedule. In 2005, the series abandoned its unofficial ovals-only stance, and added three road/street course events (Watkins Glen, Infineon and St. Petersburg). For 2007, two more road/street events (Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle) were added.
In its inception, the series and George himself were widely ridiculed by members of the media and some CART competetors. The IRL's early seasons consisted of only a handful of races, comprised of mostly unknown drivers, even in the Indy 500. Eventually the caliber of drivers improved and IRL began to draw teams from CART, contributing to the latter's bankruptcy in 2003.
The League consists of two series, the premeir IndyCar Series (usually considered synonymous with the Indy Racing League) and the Indy Pro Series, which is a developmental series.
The Cars[edit | edit source]
IRL is not an open formula, but neither is it a one-make or "spec" series. Instead, chassis and engine manufacturers apply to the League to supply cars for three year cycles. Currently, Dallara and Panoz provide the chassis, while Honda is the sole engine provider. A third chassis manufacturer, Falcon, once held the rights to produce a chassis for IRL events, but as no orders were ever made, no Falcon IRL rolling chassis were ever completed, and the company has since ceased to exist. Riley & Scott produced IRL chassis from late 1997 to 2000. In the series' first season, 1996, old CART chassis were used.
Superficially, IRL cars closely resemble those of other open-wheeled formula racing cars, with front and rear wings and prominent airboxes. Originally, the cars were unique, being designed specifically for oval racing; for example, the oil and cooling systems were asymmetrical to account for the pull of liquids to the right side of the cars. The current generation chassis however, are designed to accommodate the added requirements of road racing. Drivers report that the cars are particularly demanding to drive on road courses, especially when compared to GP2 and Champ Car chassis.
Indy Racing League officials have confirmed that the series will continue to use the current batch of Dallara and Panoz chassis for the balance of this season (2006). Both manufacturers have served as chassis manufacturers with the IndyCar Series since 1997 and their current three-year chassis suppliers' agreement was signed in 2003. The series currently has no confirmed chassis contracts for 2007. By the end of the 2006 season, all full-time teams were using Dallaras for oval races.
The Engines[edit | edit source]
Starting in 1997, IRL cars were powered by 4.0L V8, methanol burning, production-based, normally-aspirated engines, produced by Oldsmobile (under the Aurora label) and Nissan (badged as Infiniti). That engine formula was replaced by a 3.5L format for 2000, at which time the requirement for the block to be production-based was dropped. This formula was used through 2003. In 2004, the displacement was further reduced to 3.0L, in an attempt to curb top speeds. In 2006, the series switched to a new fuel blend. For one season, the cars would burn a 90%/10% mixture of methanol and ethanol. For 2007, the engines will utilize a 100% ethanol fuel, and displacement will be increased back to 3.5 L.
Historically, Honda, Toyota and Chevrolet competed for the engine supply business. In a major development announced by Chevrolet on November 4, 2004, Chevrolet stated that it would be ending its IRL engine program effective with the end of the 2005 season, citing costs that exceeded value, according to then-GM Racing Director Doug Duchardt. "The investment did not meet our objectives," he was quoted as saying. In November 2005, Toyota company officials announced the company's withdrawal from American open-wheel racing and the immediate discontinuation of its IRL program. The company in the past stated a dissatisfaction with the investment returns in the series, and at the same time, Toyota Racing Development is preparing for entry into the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2007. This has left Honda as the sole supplier of powerplants to the IRL through 2009. Whether this constitutes a serious blow to the series or just another change remains to be seen.
Currently, IRL engines are rev-limited to 10,300 rpm and produce approximately 750 hp at that revolution regime. The Honda HI5R engine is a normally aspirated, fuel-injected, aluminum alloy cylinder block V-8 with a displacement of 3.0 liters (183.1 in³). The valve train is a dual overhead camshaft configuration with four valves per cylinder. The crankshaft is made of alloy steel, with five main bearing caps. The pistons are forged aluminum alloy, while the connecting rods are machined alloy steel. The electronic engine management system is supplied by Motorola, firing a CDI ignition system. The engine lubrication is a dry sump type, cooled by a single water pump.
History of the IndyCar name[edit | edit source]
IndyCar (sometimes "Indy Car" or "Indy car") is most often used as a generic term for championship open wheel auto racing in the United States. The term was coined from the name of the Indianapolis 500 (often referred to as the "Indy 500"), the best known and long most-popular open-wheel auto race in North America.
Beginning in 1980, IndyCar became the name used to advertise CART which had become the dominant governing body for open-wheel racing in the United States. The Indianapolis 500, however, remained sanctioned by USAC. CART recognized the Indy 500 on its schedule, and awarded points for finishers in the race from 1980-1995 despite not sanctioning it. The two entities operated seperately, but utilized the same equipment, and thus the term "IndyCar" was appropriate for the CART series.
In 1992, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway trademarked the IndyCar name and licenced it to CART. They in turn assumed the operating name "IndyCar" and renamed their championship the IndyCar World Series. All references to the name "CART" were decidedly prohibited, as the series seeked to eliminate preceived confusion from casual fans with the term kart.
In 1996 season, the IndyCar name was the subject of a fierce legal battle. Prior to the 1996 season, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George had created his own national championship racing series, the Indy Racing League. In March of 1996, CART filed a lawsuit against the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an effort to protect their license of the IndyCar name which the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had attempted to terminate. In April, the speedway filed a countersuit against CART to prevent them from further use of the name. Eventually a settlement was reached in which CART agreed to give up the use of IndyCar following the 1996 season and the IRL could not use the name before the end of the 2002 season. Following a six year hiatus, the IRL announced it would rename their premier series the IRL IndyCar Series for the 2003 racing season. The Indy Racing League is now the sole U.S. owner of the name "IndyCar" and the use of the term for any other racing series is incorrect.
IndyCar Series[edit | edit source]
The IndyCar Series is the name adopted in 2003 for the premier series of the Indy Racing League. Due to the legal settlement with CART, the IRL was unable to utilize the name until the beginning of the 2003 season. With the introduction of the Indy Pro Series in 2002, it was necessary to differentiate the two series.
From 1996-1997, the premier series was simply referred to as the Indy Racing League, with no genre designation. From 1998-1999, the series garnered its first title sponsor, and was advertised as the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. The contract was not renewed after the second year. In 2000, the series sold its naming rights to Internet search engine Northern Light for five seasons, and the series was named the Indy Racing Northern Light Series. After only two seasons, however, the sponsorship agreement ended when Northern Light reevaluated its business plan and ended all sponsorships . Incidently, this name had been causing some mild confusion, due to the open-wheel developmental series called "Indy Lights".
No title sponsor has embraced the premier series of the IRL since the 2002 season. The only change coming in 2003, as mentioned above, when it adopted the title IndyCar Series. In 2006, IndyCar forged an alliance with Simmons-Abramson Marketing (headed by Gene Simmons of the heavy metal band KISS), promising to be "actively engaged in the league's marketing, event, public relations, sponsorship, merchandising and branding efforts -- from its IndyCar Series to the venerable Indianapolis 500". Simmons also co-authored the new IndyCar theme song, "I Am Indy". 
Controversy[edit | edit source]
The Indy Racing League may be unique in being the only sporting series in the world to measure opposition by lack of negative attention. The split between Tony George and the CART governing body was extremely acrimonious, and both series have suffered since, as the fan base also split. The 'war' between competing groups of fans is most active now on the Internet, especially on motorsports messageboards, and tends to affect any attempts at impartial views of either racing series.
The most bitter point of conflict between Champ Car and the IRL is of course the Indianapolis 500, long considered the crown jewel of North American motorsports. After the beginning of the IRL in 1995, Tony George restricted entry of the starting 33 cars to 25 IRL cars from full-time IRL teams, with only eight other cars being permitted to start. In retaliation, CART scheduled what was supposed to become its new showcase event, the U.S. 500, at Michigan International Speedway on the same day, but it drew far less fan interest and was discontinued after its 1999 running. Although modified in 1999, the initial Indy 500 policy toward CART has continued to be held up as proof of George and the IRL's ill-intent towards CART. Since the lifting of the ban, many of the former top teams in CART (now Champ Car) have moved to the IRL and, as they dominated in CART, so do they now tend to dominate in the IRL.
Weak attendance and TV ratings have also plagued the IRL since its inception. While the League's race broadcasts struggle to find an audience, this is counterbalanced by the improved and increased TV coverage and improving attendance at many events. The continuation of the ABC network contract, as well as the establishment of successful races in Texas and Japan, and renewed interest in and attendance at the flagship Indianapolis 500 are seen by some as additional signs of stability. In addition, the IRL has all its races broadcasted on XM Satellite Radio, the exclusive satellite radio partner since 2005. Also, the Champ Car series temporarily lost its broadcast network television exposure, and to many its losses equate with IRL's gains, although to many others this is just demonstrative of an overall loss of interest in open-wheel motor racing in North America, engendered at least in part by the IRL/CART split. Some IRL fans have also become disgruntled with the current direction of the series, feeling that its current domination by ex-CART drivers and teams goes against the League's founding principles. Although they believe that the absence of oval-trained open-wheel drivers is primarily to blame for the IRL's woes, it should be pointed out that USAC still runs sprint car races, mainly with developmental drivers, on a regular basis. However, those drivers are more likely to sign contracts with NASCAR teams for financial reasons.
Driver safety has also been a major point of concern, with an alarming number of drivers injured, primarily in the early years of the series, some of them seriously, even fatally. Unlike road racing venues, the lack of run-offs on oval tracks, coupled with higher, sometimes far higher, speeds due to the long straightaways and symmetrical turns, means that there is simply far less margin for error. Car design was attributed as a leading cause of early injuries, but the series has made significant and continuous improvements to chassis safety to address these safety concerns as they have become apparent. Following a series of spectacular high-profile accidents in 2003, including to American racing legend Mario Andretti and former champion Kenny Bräck, and the death of Tony Renna in testing at Indianapolis, the IRL made additional changes to reduce speeds and increase safety. These included a significant review and changes in the chassis, and a further reduction in engine displacement. As a result, the 2004 season, while still far from perfect, was the safest IRL season to date.
The IRL was also the first race series to adopt the new SAFER soft wall safety system, which debuted at the Indianapolis 500 and has now been installed at almost all major oval racing circuits. Recognized as one of the most significant improvements ever in racing safety, the SAFER system research and design was supported and funded in large part by the Hulman-George family and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The system's full name, Steel And Foam Energy Reduction, accurately explains the method used to attenuate high-G impacts that in the past led to serious driver injuries.
The IRL's tenth anniversary season in 2005 was marked by improvements in some arenas and continued difficulties in others. Television ratings for the 2005 Indy 500 were up approximately 40% from the previous year. Almost all of this increase has been attributed to increased interest in the event due to the entry of Danica Patrick, considered to be the first female driver whose team was strong enough to provide her with a competitive, even potentially race-winning car. The predictions of pundits with regard to this seemed accurate when Patrick, despite several "rookie"-type mistakes, actually led a good portion of the final stages of the race, not relinquishing the lead until only seven laps remained and still finishing fourth, the best finish ever for a female driver in the Indy 500. However, as Patrick's season wore on, her unspectacular on-track performance led to a decline in "Danicamania." Still, signs of Patrick's ability to attract new viewers are apparent. Overall television ratings improved 53% from 2004 to 2005, attendance increased 9%, merchandise sales were up 75%, and Web traffic on the series' site rose 162%. According to Joyce Julius and Associates, an independent Ann Arbor, Michigan-based media research firm, sponsors got 57% more exposures during 2005 IRL telecasts than in 2004.
In September 2005, the IRL announced its 2006 schedule. The series dropped races at California Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Pikes Peak International Raceway and added no new events. The IRL received substantial negative publicity for its "streamlined" schedule. It is believed that this streamlined schedule of 14 races is due to the new NASCAR television contract that will begin in 2007 and the imminent closure of Pikes Peak. ABC/ESPN which has the broadcast rights for the IRL now will begin broadcasting NASCAR events in the latter part of 2007. The early conclusion of the IRL season leaves little conflict for the television networks, and the league hopes this will keep ratings strong throughout the season.
The sharp reduction in manufacturer support for the series in 2006 has resulted in a struggle by teams to find financial backing to compete. Several teams, including Panther Racing, have been forced to cut back their operations and, in some cases, quit racing activities altogether.
Indy Racing League IndyCar Series seasons[edit | edit source]
- Sharp and Calkins tied in the final standings, and were declared co-champions; Calkins had one win (Sharp did not win) in the short season, but the Foyt team scored more team points.
- Sam Hornish, Jr. and Dan Wheldon tied in the final standings for first place. Hornish clinched the championship based on tiebreaker of most victories during the season.
See also[edit | edit source]
- 2007 in IRL
- List of current Indycar races
- List of Indycar teams
- IRL drivers
- Indianapolis 500
- ABC Sports Indy Racing (video game)
- Indy Pro Series
[edit | edit source]
- Indycar.com - Official Site
- SPEED TV - IRL news from SPEED Channel
- Indy500.com- Official Site of the Indy 500
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