IRL adds road racing to 2005 schedule

Updated: September 2, 2004, 3:01 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indy Racing League's next step -- road course racing in 2005 -- will take place at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen International in upstate New York.

2005 Indy Racing League Series Schedule
3/6 Homestead-Miami Speedway
3/19 Phoenix International Raceway
4/3 St. Petersburg (14-turn, 1.806-mile temp street course)
4/30 Twin Ring Motegi
5/29 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
6/11 Texas Motor Speedway
6/25 Richmond International Raceway
7/3 Kansas Speedway
7/16 Nashville Superspeedway
7/24 The Milwaukee Mile
7/31 Michigan International Speedway
8/14 Kentucky Speedway
8/21 Pikes Peak International Raceway
8/28 Infineon Raceway
9/11 Chicagoland Speedway
9/25 Watkins Glen International
10/16 California Speedway
Those are the two major changes to the 2005 IRL schedule, which was announced Tuesday at the two new venues that will stage IRL events.

The 2005 season marks the 10th year of competition for the IRL, and the 16-race schedule features 14 ovals and two road courses.

For the fourth consecutive year, Homestead-Miami Speedway will play host to the season opener, the Toyota Indy 300 scheduled for Sunday, March 6. The season will end with the Toyota Indy 400, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 16 at California Speedway. It will be the first time the two-mile oval will play host to the IndyCar Series season finale.

"The addition of Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International is being warmly accepted by all of our partners, drivers and teams," said Ken Ungar, senior vice president, business affairs for the Indy Racing League. "Bringing the season finale to the Southern California market, where open-wheel racing has such a rich tradition, is especially gratifying."

The first road racing event in IndyCar Series history will take place at an IndyCar Series-modified 10-turn, 1.77-mile course at Infineon Raceway on Aug. 28. The first race at the historic 3.4-mile, 11-turn long-course at Watkins Glen International is scheduled for Sept. 25. The IndyCar Series circuit will include "the boot," which is part of the circuit's traditional Grand Prix circuit.

The race at Infineon Raceway will be the first Indy-style race at the facility since Dan Gurney's win in a USAC Indy Car race in 1970, while the race at Watkins Glen occurs on the weekend long associated with the United States Grand Prix at the facility.

"The addition of road courses will bring even more variety and challenges to IndyCar Series drivers and teams," said Brian Barnhart, the IRL's senior vice president, racing operations. "We are working closely with the teams and manufacturers to bring the same excitement of our oval events to road-racing."

Though most of the events remain near their traditional dates, there have been a few date changes.

The 89th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 29, but with Twin-Ring Motegi moved to April 30, it appears likely the Speedway will cut the month of May schedule to two weeks, which it used from 1998-2000 before going back to its traditional three-week schedule.

The second race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway will run on Saturday, March 19, while the IndyCar Series' third visit to the Twin Ring Motegi moves to Saturday, April 30.

The Indy Racing League, which in May announced a contract extension through the 2009 season with ABC Sports and ESPN, will announce its complete 2005 television schedule in the immediate future.

Although the addition of two road races comes as great news for many of the drivers with road racing backgrounds, the two sites selected are a bit curious to some.

"I'm not so sure those are the two road courses I would pick because the odds of crashing there are quite high with our cars," Dixon said. "But then, we knock the walls down every week, so why not there?"

Barnhart said he is confident Infineon's elevation would not be a problem with an IRL car.

"We have spent some time at Sonoma, and it is a first-class quality facility that would put on a good show for the IRL," Barnhart said. "There isn't a whole lot I can add other than we have visited Sonoma and we made some suggestions for them to make some alterations if we run cars there. They didn't think they would be out of line. They have a lot of options and it could be interesting facility."

Barnhart said the IRL has also visited Watkins Glen and believes necessary changes will be made to ensure a competitive and safe race with runoff areas and barriers on the road course.

"The changes aren't too dramatic, just different than the cars that run there now," Barnhart said, referring to NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck Series.

IRL officials emphasized radical changes to the current IndyCar Series formula won't be needed.

"We'll have a basic oval package to run on ovals and a road course package," said Phil Casey, the IRL's senior technical director. "It won't affect the handling of the cars. They should be very good on the road courses and still be very good on ovals."

In order to go road racing, IRL technical consultant Les Mactaggart said teams will have to alter the powertrain, suspension and brakes for a road-racing package.

"The suspension has to change on both sides because of increased braking and acceleration loads," Mactaggart said. "The uprights also have to change to accommodate larger brake calipers. Because we need larger brake calipers, the brake ducts need to change because we need better cooling to the brakes because they will be used a lot more."

The suspension on the two IndyCar Series chassis differs: Dallaras use a pull-rod suspension, while the Panoz G Force features a more traditional push-rod suspension. Mactaggart said no changes will have to be made to the design of either chassis for road racing.

"(Pull-rods are) an integral part of the (Dallara) design, so they'll still use the pull-rod on the road course," he said. "You'll have to do more damper and spring changes on road courses, and it makes it more difficult on the teams, but it's physically possible to run pull-rod cars on road courses. All the Marches were pull-rods in the mid-'80s when they ran on road courses."

Mactaggart said the road-course powertrain will change from the current spool-drive to a limited-slip differential, which will help power the rear wheels while turning, and a faster steering rack, with more teeth on the pinion, will be installed to provide more steering input for the drivers.

"Turning right and left will obviously put different loads on the wheels, so we have to have a differential," he said.

Casey said the aerodynamic package introduced at the 88th Indianapolis 500 will remain virtually the same. The wings currently used with the series' short oval package will be used as part of the road course package. Though Mactaggart said limited modifications to the wings could be made to help move the balance of the car forward.

"I think cooling and everything else is in good shape, but we may have to make a few modifications here and there," Casey said.