Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and Derrick Walker, the head of IndyCar competition, emerged from a competition advisory board meeting on Thursday to announce they were debating how to top the record-breaking speeds clocked in 1996 by two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk.
“I hope I get to be a part of that,” this year’s Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter Ed Carpenter said. “I definitely have the memories of Tom Carnegie calling, ‘New track record,’ and that means something to me. It’s cool. I think it would be cool if we got to that point again. I’d like to hear somebody say, ‘New track record,’ over the P.A. system.”
Carpenter grew up around the track as the stepson of IndyCar founder and former speedway executive Tony George.
The goal is simple: Break Luyendyk’s records for fastest official lap at Indianapolis (237.498 mph) and fastest four-lap qualifying average (236.986). After series officials changed the specs to disallow turbo-charged engines in 1997, nobody has come close. Last season, after bringing back the turbochargers with less horsepower than drivers had in the early to mid-1990s, Indy’s pole-winning speed was 226.484 mph. Carpenter captured the pole at 228.762.
Some believe steady improvements will continue to push speeds up by 2 mph to 3 mph over the next few years, putting drivers within reach of the record without adding any more boost to the engines.
But that’s not how Walker wants to proceed. First, committee members hope to modify the aerodynamic kits. Walker said that decision needs to be made soon because manufacturers will then get one year to develop the kits and get them on the track.
There are concerns, though.
“The biggest thing is being safe going at those speeds,” said 22-year-old American Josef Newgarden, who drives for Sarah Fisher. “Maybe we can come up with a compromise, do one thing for qualifying and another for racing because those are two different things. Racing at those speeds is probably asking for trouble.”
Safety is a priority for Miles and Walker, too.
As the news conference took place inside the speedway museum, the two men stood in front of the first car to top 150 mph, the first car to top 200 mph and Luyendyk’s car that set the record and the SAFER barrier that has become a standard practice in IndyCar and Cup racing.
But the ultimate goal is rekindling the talk about how fast drivers can go on Indy’s world famous 2.5-mile oval.
“Mark has really given us the goal of breaking the track record with a lot less horsepower and using a very different car,” Walker said. “I would say we can do that in two to three years.”
Increasing speeds might not be the only thing changing in America’s top open-wheel series.
When asked about the two-engine chase for supremacy between Chevrolet and Honda and with only one chassis manufacturer in the series, Dallara, Walker acknowledged he would welcome more competition while pledging to find new ways to make drivers safe.
It’s a combination that could change the whole look of a series that hopes to expand its fan base and improve its television ratings.
“When you look at where the series is going, we can’t help but look back and say ‘Hey, have we forgotten what racing’s all about?’” Walker said. “I think we’ve lost a lot of what really IndyCar and, more specifically, the Indianapolis 500 is all about.”
Drivers can’t wait to get started.
“Today we are close to achieving 230 mph with the safety we want, so I say why not?” three-time Indy winner and four-time pole winner Helio Castroneves said. “I do believe we can do it.”