1996 Indy Racing League season
|1996 Indy Racing League season|
|Indy Racing League|
|Start date||January 27|
|End date||May 26|
|Drivers' champion|| Buzz Calkins
|Indianapolis 500 winner||Buddy Lazier|
|Previous season||Next season|
The 1996 Indy Racing League season, the first in the history of the league, consisted of only three races, as the season concluded in May with the 80th Indianapolis 500. Walt Disney World Speedway was completed in time to host the first race of the season, and the first ever event of the IRL, and Phoenix International Raceway switched alliances from CART to IRL and hosted the second event of the season. At the conclusion of the three-race schedule, Scott Sharp and Buzz Calkins ended up tied for first place in the season championship. With no tiebreaker rule in place, the two drivers were declared co-champions. Therefore if the tie was broken, Calkins would've been declared the season champion, as he had one win as opposed to Sharp's zero.
On January 23, 1995, at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort the IRL announced the dates for two of the races scheduled for the inaugural 1996 season. The Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway was scheduled for January 27, 1996 and 80th Indianapolis 500 was set for May 26, 1996. On April 3, the IRL announced that Phoenix International Raceway and the then-under construction Las Vegas Motor Speedway would be on the 1996 schedule, but no dates were confirmed. Later that month, on April 13, 1995, the respective dates were finalized for Phoenix (March 24, 1996) and Las Vegas (September 15, 1996). On May 30, 1995, New Hampshire Motor Speedway officially switched alliances from CART to IRL, and scheduled their race for August 18.
The original plan was to have every Indy Racing League season end with the Indianapolis 500. Thus the IRL champion would be awarded at the conclusion of the Indy 500, and quite possibly could be the Indy 500 winner. The next season (in this case the 1996–97 season) would begin immediately after the Indy 500, and spread over two calendar years to conclude at the next Indianapolis 500. As a result, the two races at New Hampshire and Las Vegas, already announced, would in fact open the 1996–97 season. The schedule format, however, went against the traditional motorsports grain, and the idea was eventually scrapped in October. The 1996–97 season was expanded in order to bring the schedule back in sync with the rest of the motorsports world for 1998.
The season was contested with 1995 and older CART chassis produced by Lola and Reynard with a fixed limit on how much a team could spend on its combination. In addition, nearly every car was powered by a Ford Cosworth XB, Menard V6 or Buick V6 engine. Despite the short season, only fifteen drivers competed in all three. All races were well-attended by competitors as a legal chassis and engine combination could be acquired for well under $100,000.
Teams and drivers
All races running on Oval/Speedway.
|1||January 27||Indy 200 at Walt Disney World||Walt Disney World Speedway||Bay Lake, Florida||ABC|
|2||March 24||Dura Lube 200||Phoenix International Raceway||Phoenix, Arizona||ABC|
|3||May 26||80th Indianapolis 500||Indianapolis Motor Speedway||Speedway, Indiana||ABC|
In a controversial move, in July 1995, it was announced that the top 25 drivers in IRL points would secure guaranteed starting positions for the 1996 Indianapolis 500. Presumably, that left only eight positions open for at-large competitors. However, some interpreted the rule otherwise.
The IRL points system was to be staggered to adjust for the number of races each driver entered. The number of points awarded per race would be multiplied by the number of events the driver had participated in. For example, if a driver had entered all three events, the points awarded for that third race were multiplied by three. This move was supposed to be an encouragement to enter all IRL events, but it did not attract any additional teams from the rival CART series.
Initially, IRL officials hoped that competitors from the rival CART series would choose to race in the IRL events, presumably since there were no foreseen conflicts in their respective schedules. The 1996 IRL schedule was finalized by May 30, 1995. However, a couple weeks later the CART series announced their 1996 schedule, immediately with conflicting dates. The CART race at Road America was scheduled for the same day as the IRL event at Loudon, while the CART races at Rio and Australia were bookended around the IRL race at Phoenix, creating an impossible travel situation. The only CART teams that participated in any IRL events in 1996 were Galles and Walker, but neither fielded drivers who were CART regulars.
|Round||Race||Pole position||Fastest lap||Most laps led||Race Winner||Report|
|1||Walt Disney World||Buddy Lazier||Buzz Calkins||Buzz Calkins||Buzz Calkins||Bradley Motorsports||Report|
|2||Phoenix||Arie Luyendyk||Arie Luyendyk||Arie Luyendyk||Arie Luyendyk||Byrd-Treadway Racing||Report|
|3||Indianapolis||Tony StewartA||Eddie Cheever||Roberto Guerrero||Buddy Lazier||Hemelgarn Racing||Report|
- ^A Scott Brayton was the fastest qualifier for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, but was killed during practice. Hence, second-fastest qualifier Tony Stewart started from the pole.
Race 1: Walt Disney World
The first race for the new Indy Racing League was held at Walt Disney World Speedway and televised on ABC. Though no CART teams showed up, a full field of 25 cars arrived, with 20 qualifying. Buddy Lazier won the pole position with a track record 181.388 mph (19.847 seconds). Indycar rookies Tony Stewart and Buzz Calkins emerged as race leaders most of the afternoon, while former CART veterans Eddie Cheever, Scott Brayton, Arie Luyendyk, and Buddy Lazier all fell by the wayside. On lap 189, Scott Sharp and Eddie Cheever tangled and crashed in turn one, which set up a restart with 6 laps to go. Calkins and Stewart restarted together nose-to-tail, and Calkins held off the challenge to win by 0.886 seconds.
Race 2: Phoenix
Arie Luyendyk won the pole. On the 128th lap, Foyt Racing drivers Scott Sharp and Mike Groff (running 1st–2nd) ducked into the pits for their final stop. However, they did not see that the yellow flag had come out, and were penalized one lap for pitting while the pits were closed. Robbie Buhl suffered a broken header, which left Arie Luyendyk in the lead for the final 66 laps to victory.
Race 3: Indianapolis 500
The first Indy 500 of the Indy Racing League era was held May 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Scott Brayton won the pole but was fatally injured in a practice crash and replaced by Danny Ongais. Tony Stewart started the race from the pole. Arie Luyendyk set the fastest qualifying lap on the second day of qualifying with track 1 and 4 lap records that still stand.
In every race, points are awarded to drivers on the following basis:
- Ties in points not broken by number of wins, etc.
- No additional points to the pole winner or the driver leading the most laps were awarded.
† Scott Brayton, 37, won the pole for the 1996 Indianapolis 500, but was killed in a crash during practice after qualifying.
- 1996 Indianapolis 500
- 1996 Indy Lights season
- 1996 IndyCar season
- 1996 Toyota Atlantic Championship season
- #41 at Walt Disney World.
- #11 at Walt Disney World.
- Switched from Pagan Racing (car #99) during practice for the Indy 500.
- Used at Walt Disney World.
- #45 at Phoenix.
- Used by Jim Guthrie at Phoenix.
- Replaced Danny Ongais during practice for the Indy 500 after Ongais signed with Team Menard as a replacement for the fatally injured Scott Brayton.
- Switched from Harrington Motorsport during practice for the Indy 500.
- Used by Brad Murphey.
- Missed the Indy 500 due to injuries sustained in a practice crash at Phoenix.
- Tyce Carlson and Andy Michner passed his Indianapolis rookie test in the car.
- Used at the Indy 500.
- Used at Phoenix.
- At the Indy 500, Brayton withdrew his already qualified primary car and won the pole in the backup #32, but was fatally injured in a practice crash and replaced by Ongais, who switched from Brickell Racing.
- Used by Alessandro Zampedri, Joe Gosek and Racin Gardner.
- Used by Lyn St. James at Walt Disney World
- Used by Michele Alboreto at Walt Disney World and Lyn St. James at Phoenix.
- Injured in a practice crash at Walt Disney World
- Switched from Tempero-Giuffre Racing (car #15) during practice for the Indy 500.
- Justin Bell passed his Indianapolis rookie test in the car.