Pole will be worth one point Four rookies ready for battle
1. Pole will be worth one point: Indy Racing League officials have altered the bonus points awarded during an IndyCar Series race weekend to match Firestone Indy Lights – two points for leading the most laps and one point for the pole winner, marking the first time since 2000 that points will be awarded based on qualifying. Since 2001, the lap leader received all bonus points.
The pole winner also will receive the $10,000 PEAK Performance Pole Award prize for races other than the 93rd Indianapolis 500 ($100,000).
“The fight for the pole is full of drama on ovals and on road and street courses,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and operations for the IndyCar Series. “It seems appropriate that the driver who can survive four laps driving on the edge on ovals, or who can make it through three elimination rounds on road and street courses, be rewarded for their efforts with a point towards the championship.”
The point system for each race – descending from 50 for first place, 40 for second, 35 for third, etc. – is unchanged.
“I think it’s great that you’re rewarded for pole position because it is such hard work and so difficult to get a pole in this series,” said Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who won three poles in 2008.” It’s sort of the first race of the weekend. To earn a point for it gives you a little more satisfaction.”
A look at the past three seasons, with points awarded and how the championship would have been impacted if the 2009 bonus points structure was used:
2008 (Scott Dixon won by 17 points over Helio Castroneves)
Driver Points Bonus Lap leader Pole
Dixon 646 15 5 6Castroneves 629 18 6 3
Dixon would have received 10 points for lap leader and six for poles = 16 (+1)Castroneves would have received 12 points for lap leader and three for poles = 15 (-3)Winning margin: 21
2007 (Dario Franchitti won by 13 over Scott Dixon)Driver Points Bonus Lap leader Pole
Franchitti 637 15 5 3Dixon 624 6 2 2
Franchitti would have received 10 points for lap leader and three for pole = 13 (-2)Dixon would have received four points for lap leader and two for pole = 6 (0)
Winning margin: 11
2006 (Sam Hornish Jr. won on first tiebreaker over Dan Wheldon)Driver Points Bonus Lap leader PoleHornish 475 9 3 4Wheldon 475 12 4 2Castroneves 473 6 2 5
Hornish would have received six points for lap leader and four for pole = 10 (+1)Wheldon would have received eight points for lap leader and two for pole = 10 (-2)Helio Castroneves would have received four points for lap leader and five for pole = 9 (+3)
Winning margin: Tie (Hornish and Castroneves would have tied with 476. Both had four victories (first tiebreaker). Both had one second place (second tiebreaker). Hornish wins by having two third-place finishes to Castroneves’ one (third tiebreaker)).
2. Four rookies ready for battle: Raphael Matos has won four championships in the last six seasons, working his way through the developmental racing ranks to a full-time ride in the IndyCar Series. While a fifth title might be a bit ambitious for 2009, Matos will be a top contender for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors.
Matos is one of four rookies entered full time in the IndyCar Series in 2009, joined by Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway and Robert Doornbos. All four will be contenders for the $50,000 prize.
Of the four, Matos should have the easiest learning curve. The 27-year-old won the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights championship, competing on many of the same circuits as the IndyCar Series in a race car that is the most similar to the one used in the IndyCar Series.
“I feel comfortable and I have been successful at pretty much every road course that we will be racing at, so it’s just a matter of having all the pieces together,” Matos said.
Matos moves to the IndyCar Series with Luczo Dragon Racing after winning his Firestone Indy Lights title with AFS/Andretti Green Racing. He also won championships in Champ Car Atlantic in 2007, Formula Mazda in 2005 and Formula Dodge in 2003. Those came on the heels of five championships as a teenager in Brazil.
“Our expectations are to win two races at least this season,” Matos said. “We’ll be fighting for the championship, but we have a lot to learn. We have to build up a solid base. We’re a one-car team, and that also will make things a little bit more difficult sometimes, but sometimes it’s going to play to our advantage. We’re doing all the right things to try to find performance in the car.”
Barrett, Conway and Doornbos are all newcomers to the IndyCar Series paddock but bring their own sets of impressive credentials.
Barrett has the most experience racing on ovals among the rookies. The 36-year-old has made more than 190 stock car starts in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series.
“I don’t think we’ve set any real expectations of saying we have to do this or that,” said Barrett, who will drive the No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/Team 3G entry. “I think the best thing we can do is do our best and set out to be smart about what we’re doing, get laps and learn and try and be competitive as we can. I think we can do that. It’s a little bit difficult to be in that situation as a rookie, but I just want to do a job and be competitive, and wherever that puts us, use this year as learning and building for our sponsors and finding new sponsors so we can be around.”
Conway will drive the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry in his first season in the United States. The 25-year-old spent the past two seasons in GP2 following a championship campaign in British Formula 3 International.
“We just want to learn as much as we can, experience and finish as many races as we can,” Conway said. “Obviously we want to finish on all the ovals. On the road courses, we should be a lot stronger at least initially. We’re aiming to finish at least top five on the road courses, but it will be tough based on the competition out there.”
Doornbos returns to the United States following a 2007 campaign in the Champ Car World Series that saw him record five podium finishes in his first six starts en route to third overall in the championship. In 2009 he joins Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, an operation that recorded two victories in its first full season in the IndyCar Series in 2008.
“When I made the move from Formula One to Champ Car in 2007, I had no knowledge of circuits, tires, drivers, engine, whatever of that series, and I had five podiums out of the first six races, so that was a motivation boost,” Doornbos said. “I think my attitude is the same for the IndyCar Series. The team contacted me because they know what I can do, and I’m here to do the best job I can. Of course I have respect for the ovals, there’s still a steep learning curve, but nothing to be worried about. The team is very strong, great results. I feel at home already.”
The battle for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors will play out over 17 races – 10 on ovals and seven on road/street courses. The 2009 winner will join past winners Hideki Mutoh (2008), Marco Andretti (2006), Danica Patrick (2005) and Dan Wheldon (2003).
The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. The radio broadcast also will be carried on indycar.com. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg. The race will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS.