“Last Row Shootout” added to Indy 500 qualifying format

by Jordan Groves
Will Power (AUS), 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Team Penske, Indianapolis 500 Qualifying

A number of changes to the 2019 Indianapolis 500 schedule have been announced today, with the organisers of the NTT IndyCar Series aiming to add further action, excitement and drama to one of the most famous races in all of motorsport.

The key change to the format comes from the addition of the “Last Row Shootout” – a new session that will see drivers battle it out for the final three spots on the grid, with the slowest drivers being sent home and forced to watch the race from the sidelines.

Today’s announced changes leave the race weekend untouched, but the Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying weekend has undergone a number of changes which will provide “a phenomenal weekend of action” according to series officials.

The weekend will start as normal with a practice session on Saturday, May 18. Later in the day, the field will head out onto the circuit for the first qualifying session; once again comprising of single-car runs, with each driver setting four timed laps to get their total qualifying time.

At the conclusion of the Saturday qualifying session, the drivers occupying positions ten to thirty will be locked into their grid positions. As was the case last year, the top-nine drivers will take part in the “Fast-Nine Shootout” on Sunday, May 19; with the fastest driver taking pole position for the following weekend’s Indianapolis 500.

However, before the “Fast-Nine Shootout”, the new “Last Row Shootout” will take place. This session will see the drivers that did not make it into the top thirty on Saturday fighting it out for the final three grid spots for the Indy 500. The drivers that do not make it into those positions will not qualify for the race and will be forced to sit out; like James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann were forced too in 2018.

Last year, thirty-five drivers were on the entry list for the 500, meaning that only Hinchcliffe and Mann failed to qualify. In 2019, it looks as though the entry list could be even higher, with entry announcements still expected from the likes of CarlinJuncos RacingDreyer & Reinbold Racing and more. If this is the case, the “Last Row Shootout” could be one of the most intense sessions of the entire 2019 NTT IndyCar Series; with the potential for there to be some major scalps from the field.

The final change to the format see’s the traditional full-field practice session, which usually takes place the day after qualifying, moved to the afternoon on May 19; a few hours after qualifying has concluded. This change was made by the series so that more fans are able to attend the session; which is usually an exciting one as the drivers often choose to run in packs to simulate race running for the following weekend.

Following today’s announcement, IndyCar president Jay Frye stated that the changes to the qualifying weekend schedule will provide “phenomenal” action for the fans.

“With this schedule, fans will get a phenomenal weekend of action, with two days of qualifying, bumping, the run for the pole and this incredible practice that effectively is the race before the race – all in a two-day span,” Frye said today.

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be the sixth round of the upcoming 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. The Championship will get underway with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10, with the Indianapolis 500 taking place later in the year on Sunday, May 26. The revamped qualifying weekend will take place the weekend prior to the race, from Saturday, May 18 to Sunday, May 19.

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