The Indy Racing League has amended a subsection of its IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook to accommodate 27 entries for this weekend's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
The starting field for each race is a maximum of 28 with the exceptions of 33 for the Indianapolis 500, 26 for Toronto and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (which includes two provisionals), and 24 for Brazil based on available pit lane space. However, rule 8.1 (E) (5) (d) was revised to: Mid-Ohio – 27 cars.
In addition to the 24 full-season cars, including 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion J.R. Hildebrand making his series debut in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry in place of the injured Mike Conway, the pit lane will include the No. 66 Service Central (Sarah Fisher Racing) for Jay Howard, the No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc. (Andretti Autosport) for Adam Carroll and the No. 02 National Tire and Battery (Newman/Haas Racing) for Graham Rahal.
For the first time, the past four Firestone Indy Lights champions will compete in the same race: full-season drivers Alex Lloyd (2007 champion; Dale Coyne Racing) and Raphael Matos (2008; de Ferran Dragon Racing) in addition to Howard (2006) and Hildebrand.
To accommodate the additional cars, pit stalls will be reduced from 40 feet in length to 35 feet.
"It will make for some interesting pit stops under yellow," two-time and defending race winner Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing said.
Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe won the 2008 race on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn circuit which this year is Aug. 8 (initial practice Aug. 6, followed by practice and qualifying Aug. 7) and was runner-up to Dixon last year.
“It's been good to us and we want to keep that going,” said Briscoe, who joined teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power in testing at Mid-Ohio on June 30. “We don't test a whole lot so any track time we get is vital, and this is one of the most important races of the year. It's right in the crunch time when you're deciding who's going to be capable to go for the championship or not.”
Power takes a 50-point lead into the weekend – the penultimate road/street course event on the calendar – over reigning series champion Dario Franchitti. He's also seeking to wrap up the Mario Andretti Road/Street Course Trophy, awarded to the driver who scores the most points in those nine events.
The spectator viewing areas on hillsides and grandstands – along with ample camping areas in close proximity to the track – “is great for the fans,” Briscoe said. For the drivers, the race (plus the three rounds of qualifications) is physically and mentally taxing.
“The road courses in general are a lot more physically demanding,” he said. “The race at Mid-Ohio last year was one of the most draining races. My drink bottle wasn't working so that really hurt. You definitely need to be fit to go the distance.”