The IZOD IndyCar Series announced today its 22 confirmed full-time Leader's Circle entries that will be eligible for TEAM (Team Enhancement and Allocation Matrix) funding for the 2011 season. Graham Rahal's new Chip Ganassi Racing entry (LEFT) was a late final addition to the TEAM field.
"Credibility on the track remains top priority as we strive to continue to deliver the best racing to our fans," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. "Once we confirmed we had 21 of the 22 Leader's Circle entries returning full time this season, we began to look at other full-time entrants based on a variety of criteria including commitment, stability and performance. We decided to award the final Leader's Circle spot to the No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing car with driver Graham Rahal."
TEAM is limited to the top 22 entrants in the final IZOD IndyCar Series entrant points from the 2010 season. Should an entrant from the previous season not take its place full time on the grid the following season, IndyCar can award the remaining spot at its discretion. Each Leader's Circle entrant is assured approximately $1.2 million through the program.
Meanwhile, IndyCar has abandoned its plan to cap fields at 26 for all races except the Indianapolis 500, and will instead permit all cars that can achieve the minimum qualifying speed to start the races. However, no cars past the fastest 26 starters will be paid by the series. At the moment, it's not an issue – 25 cars are entered for this weekend's season opener in St. Petersburg – but IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard told the Indianapolis Star he was persuaded by team owners that sending cars home after qualifying was a bad idea.
"It's one thing to lose the money; it's another thing to embarrass a sponsor or upset a sponsor," Bernard said.