The Indy Racing League sanctions a series of open wheel races descended from the Indy Cars of the 1990s.
Last Updated: 2007-01-07
After the CART-USAC war settled down, there was a brief period of peace in Indycar racing where CART sanctioned all races except for the USAC-sanctioned Indy 500. In the early 90s, when Tony George took over direction of IMS, he expressed a number of public concerns about costs, shifts away from oval racing, and foreign drivers in the series. In 1996, George's brainchild, the Indy Racing League debuted. Initially the cars were per the current USAC rules, and only slightly different from the cars used in CART. All the races were on paved ovals. The first seasion was abbreviated, consisting of the first 3 races of 1996, with the Indy 500 as the grand finale.
The notion of running a non-calendar year season proved to be problematic, and so the 1997 season consisted of the remaining races in 1996, plus all the races in 1997, leading to a somewhat wonky 17 month season. Since then, IRL seasons have matched the calendar year.
In 1997, a spec-like car formula was introduced. There are generally multiple manufacturers whose designs are submitted and approved. The first two manufacturers were Dallara and GeForce; the current manufacturers are Dallara and Panoz. Riley & Scott (known for their sports racing prototypes) manufactured cars from 1997 to 2000.
At the same time as the chassis formula changed away from the old CART cars, the engine formula also changed radically. The turbocharged race-specialized engines were replaced by 4.0L normally aspirated production based engines, and engine leases (one of George's major beefs with CART) became a thing of the past. The first two engine manufacturers were Infiniti (Nissan) and Aurora (Oldsmobile). For the bulk of the life of the series, the engine manufacturers were Honda, Toyota, and Chevrolet, but Toyota and Chevy have dropped out, leaving Honda as sole source.
In 2000, the displacement was reduced to 3.5L, and the requirement for a production basis was dropped. In 2004, the displacement was further reduced to 3.0L.
USAC sanctioned the first two years of the IRL, but after some very public officiating gaffes at the 1997 Indy 500 and the 1997 race at Texas Motor Speedway, the IRL developed its own inhouse officiating and sanction program.
As of this writing (mid 2006), there is some discussion of reunification with CART which appears more serious than previous discussions, but there is still a long way to go.
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