Indy Lights Qualifying Format: Yay or Nay?

I've heard both positive and negative feedback on the new qualifying format for Indy Lights--which was put to use last weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg. As expected, the positive comments seem to come from those that benefited from the new format and the negative comments seem to come from those that were hampered by the format.

I have to admit, I like the way the Indy Lights officials split the drivers into two groups for a street course race. Group qualifying is quite common in karting and other motorsports. However, I was a bit surprised to hear that that the line-up would be based on fast time within each group, rather than basing the starting positions on individual fast time (see format explanation below). That said, race track conditions do change quickly and I'm sure the IRL officials were just trying to use a format that would make the starting grid as fair as possible for both groups.

For those that aren't following or haven't been following the Indy Lights this year, I will try to explain the format for you. The Indy Lights officials decided to use a street course qualifying format which took the fastest qualifier from both groups and put them in P1. The fastest driver from the opposing group ended up P2, regardless of how far off the pole sitters pace he/she was. The drivers from the pole sitters group started on the inside or odd numbered postions, while the drivers from the off-pole group started on the outside or even numbered positions. In other words, drivers lined up behind their group leader.

In order to give you a better idea of how this affected the drivers, I have put together some numbers from the first qualifying session below. This will give you a little insight into who benefited from the new format and who didn't. In order to come up with these numbers I calculated the difference between the drivers actual qualifying position (used in St. Petersburg) and the position that they would have qualified in had they been using a format based strictly on fast time.

Positions Improved/Lost With Use of New Format in Q1
Junior Strous (+6)
Jay Howard (+6)
James Davison (+5)
Jonathan Summerton (+5)
Mario Romancini (+5)
Charlie Kimball (+4)
Wade Cunningham (+4)
Ali Jackson (+3)
Gustavo Yacaman (+3)
Brandon Wagner (+1)
J.R. Hildebrand--(No Impact)
Jesse Mason--(No Impact)
Rodrigo Barbosa--(No Impact)
Sebastian Saavedra (-1)
Pippa Mann (-1)
Sergey Mokshantsev (-1)
James Hinchcliffe (-2)
Ana Beatriz (-3)
Logan Gomez (-3)
Duncan Tappy (-4)
Daniel Herrington (-5)
Sean Guthrie (-5)
Andrew Prendeville (-5)
Stefan Wilson (-6)
Martin Plowman (-6)
Pablo Donoso (Lap Invalidated)
Richard Philippe (No Time)

Using the numbers above:
  • 40% of the drivers improved one or more positions with the new format.
  • 12% of the drivers were not affected by the new format.
  • 48% of the drivers lost one or more positions (based on lap time) using the new format.
*It's important to note that these numbers are looking at starting position only, not the outcome of the race.*

The purpose of this article is not to criticize or praise the new format, but to simply look at the facts. It's time to hear what you, the readers, think of the new format. Feel free to comment below.


Andreas said...

I think the World Series by Renault has used a similar system. If there is a need to split the field into groups I think this is the way to go about it. There is just no way track conditions will ever be equal for both groups so having the grid decided by alternating the fastest times is in my opinion the fairest way to do it. Unless they off course would put all the fast drivers in one group and the Milka Dunos in the second (but I don't really think that was the case here).

JOWT said...

Thanks for the comment Andreas. I should have noted the qualifying group next to the driver as well. Brandon Wagner was the only driver from Group 1 to improve his starting position with the new format. Sergey Mokshantsev and Pippa Mann were the only two drivers from Group 2 who were hampered by the new format. Just FYI.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the new format. Should be based on speed only.