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IRL alters qualifying procedure for road races in 2005

Associated Press

Practice speeds will determine the qualifying order, and the six fastest drivers will go head-to-head for another 10 minutes to determine the lineup for the first three rows in the Indy Racing League’s new road races.

The IndyCar series, previously run only on oval tracks, added road courses this season in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Sonoma, Calif.; and Watkins Glen, N.Y. The 14 oval races will keep the traditional format, with the qualifying order determined in a blind draw and the lineup set in individual qualification attempts.

Besides qualifications, other changes announced Friday for the road events include a minimum car weight of 1,600 pounds, 75 more than the minimum for ovals. The added weight is due to a modified braking system and gearbox slip differential.

Except for some minor aerodynamic changes, the chassis configuration introduced at the Indianapolis 500 last May will remain for the oval track races this season.

The IRL’s 10th season begins March 6 with the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of the oval tracks. The first road race will be April 3 on a 14-turn, 1.806-mile temporary course that includes a runway at Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg.

“We’re excited about this unique qualifying format for our road course events in 2005,” IRL president Brian Barnhart said. “The format will allow our drivers to showcase the speed, drama and all-out competition of the IndyCar series.”

Under the new format, all cars will take part in the opening practice session of the three-day race weekend, and their speeds in that session will determine the two groups that will be used in the remaining practices before qualifications.

The first practice also will determine the qualifying order, and the fastest driver will have the option of qualifying first or last. Then after the single-lap qualifying, the fastest six cars will go out for a 10-minute, “European-style” session – all of them on the track at the same time – to determine the first three rows.

The rest of the lineup will be based on the fastest lap speeds in the individual qualifying.

The other road races will be at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma on Aug. 28 and at Watkins Glen International on Sept. 25.

IRL’s premier event is May 29, the Indianapolis 500.

Fernandez expects to miss season

Financial problems will keep Adrian Fernandez from driving this year in the Indy Racing League.

“I am faced with the hard fact that I do not have the necessary budget to compete in 2005,” he said Thursday on the Fernandez Racing Web site. “I am working hard to be able to race again as soon as possible.”

The 41-year-old Mexican said he would concentrate on his role as owner of the cars driven by Scott Sharp and Kosuke Matsuura.

Mexican newspapers have reported that two of his longtime backers, the Mexican telephone company Telmex and beer brewer Tecate, either dropped or sharply reduced sponsorship this year.

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