Higher speeds, bigger payout and qualifying format changes announced for Indy 500

by Jordan Groves

A number of changes to the prize money, qualifying format and facilities surrounding the Indianapolis 500 were announced today by the new owner of both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series, Roger Penske. The overall prize money for competitors in the Indy 500 has been increased to $15 million, whilst qualifying has also seen a minor format tweak as well as increased horsepower for the drivers taking part.

The two changes that will impact the on-track action directly both involved qualifying. Firstly, despite prior fears that Penske may wish to end the tradition of drivers being bumped from the field in qualifying, Penske and IndyCar have instead chosen to double down on the drama of bump-day qualifying.

The last-row shootout session – where the drivers who occupy positions thirty and onward after the first day of qualifying fight to take the final three spots on the grid – will now be extended to seventy-five minutes in length. This will give the drivers multiple attempts to try and secure themselves a spot on the grid; thus adding to the drama of the session.

Another change that will impact qualifying will be the newly announced increase in horsepower for qualifying weekend. The drivers will now have forty-five horsepower to play with thanks to an increase in the turbocharger level. This will ensure that qualifying speeds will be well in excess of 230-mph, with last year’s pole speed for Simon Pagenaud just below the 230-mph mark at 229.992-mph. What’s more, television coverage for the qualifying weekend has also been expanded for 2020.

There is also an increased incentive for the drivers competing in the Indianapolis 500 this year, should they really need it. It was also announced today that the overall prize pool for the competitors has been increased by $2 million for this year. This means that the prize pool now sits at $15 million. Based on data from previous years, this means that the winning driver alone should expect to walk away at least $2 million richer, with the rest of the prize pool being shared out between the rest of the drivers based on their finishing positions.

A number of other changes to the facilities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway were also announced today. These included infrastructure works in and around the speedway as well as technology upgrades that will see thirty more large-screen video boards placed around the speedway alongside the rollout of 5G mobile network coverage provided by Verizon.

Whilst on the subject of Verizon, it was also announced by Penske today that the company would be one of six new sponsors for the Indianapolis 500. Verizon will be joined by Pennzoil, Snap-on Tools, DEX Imaging, Road & Track magazine and Global Medical Response.

The changes to the biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series calendar were announced today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by Roger Penske himself:

“This is the Racing Capital of the World,” Penske said. “It is on par with some of the most historic sporting institutions in this nation and across the globe, from Churchill Downs to Augusta National. Today, we’re announcing a meaningful investment in our fan experience that will produce rapid results. It’s part of a long-term plan to ensure the legendary status of the Speedway continues to grow and evolve for generations to come.

“I am very excited about the enhancements to qualifying weekend, the largest-ever ‘500’ purse, new sponsors and the significant investments we are making to the INDYCAR SERIES and to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Sunday, May 24. The race will be the sixth round of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, which will kick-off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 15.

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