IndyCar unveils 2023 technical changes with alternate oval tires, red flag pauses in qualifying

Nathan Brown
Indianapolis Star

With one week until IndyCar kicks off its 2023 season on the streets of St. Petersburg, series officials unveiled a series of technical, rules and competition changes for this campaign. Here are the highlights:

New oval tire rules

Pato O'Ward at St. Louis, Aug. 2022

For the first time, IndyCar will bring its alternate tire rules and format to short-oval racing, starting with the series' oval finale in August at WWT Raceway. As is the case for road and street course races, teams will now be forced to run a new set of alternate tires during the course of a race.

This practice brings an additional layer of strategy to the races where, depending on the track surface, the length of the race and how quickly the alternate tires lose their advantage of turning a few quicker laps, teams are faced with numerous decisions that can make or break a race. Those include whether to start on the alternates to get them out of the way quickly, how long to run them and whether to potentially save them for the end, not knowing how cautions might break up and change the flow of a race.

Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver Colton Herta’s (26) crew celebrates during the GMR Grand Prix, Saturday, May 14, 2022, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis.

IndyCar responds to rain race visibility concerns

In 2023, IndyCar will roll out several changes meant to make cars more visible to those behind them and better wick moisture away from the aeroscreen after drivers relayed serious visibility concerns from the series' first rain race in years. Last May's IMS road course race featured off-and-on precipitation that, by the end, had drivers saying they could hardly see the car in front of them due to water pooling on the aeroscreen.

To combat these concerns, cars will be forced to run 'rain vanes' on the nose of the car just in front of the base of the aeroscreen that officials believe will help wick moisture away. Additionally, cars will also feature a new larger, more visible LED rain light on the rear of the attenuator to help better point out cars ahead.

Apr 10, 2022; Long Beach, California, USA; Team Penske driver Will Power (12) of Australia during morning warm up for the Grand Prix of Long Beach at Long Beach Street Circuit.

Practice and qualifying format changes

To combat drivers' and teams' continued concerns about the amount of time lost in qualifying due to red flags, IndyCar will opt to pause rounds one and two of qualifying on road and street courses for the first red flag.

In the old system, a massive crash just a couple minutes into the pair of first-round sessions (when the field is split in half) or during Round No. 2 (the Fast 12) could derail nearly the entire session to allow crews to extract the driver, tow the car off-course, clean up the remaining carnage and make any repairs the safety team deemed necessary to the walls or barriers. You'd sometimes see otherwise undeserving cars move onto the next round because they turned an early solid lap on black tires by virtue of having been near pit exit and being more easily able to find clear track compared to the rest of the field.

Now, if there's only one crash necessitating a red flag, drivers will still be able to get their allotted 10 minutes of green flag running in. A second, third or more red flags will see the round's clock continue to run. Unchanged, the Fast Six will still see six minutes of guaranteed green flag running.

Additionally, the clock for each round of road and street course qualifying will now only begin once the first car crosses the alternate start-finish line that is typically three-fourths (or so) of the way around the track, rather than when officials throw the proverbial green flag on the session. This will turn that minute or so of time into a period more conducive to building a proper lap, rather than time lost to warming ones tires and merely getting to the point where they can begin to turning a qualifying lap.

IndyCar will also adopt the extra 'second-groove' practice sessions utilized at Texas Motor Speedway and WWT Raceway in 2022 to try and rubber-in a second lane moving forward, with those sessions now open to all entries, rather than just one from each team.

IndyCar will roll out various technical changes to the car for 2023 to address drivers' visibility concerns in the rain and give teams more competitive flexibility on ovals.

Various technical changes

New for 2023, IndyCar is adding:

>>A new rear attenuator and stronger rear-wheel tethers meant to protect the driver and reinforce the car in case of a collision.

>>A new, higher headrest to better pad drivers in the cockpit.

>>A new mandatory, "more-forgiving" steering arm capable of taking more punishment in a crash without breaking.

>>Optional use of short-oval barge boards at road and street course race weekends.

>>Optional use of the previously-tested underwing sidewall at Texas.

>>Several changes for the Indy 500, including an optional underwing flap wicker, new mandatory stability wickers, a new optional underwing inner bargeboard (that's also allowed at other ovals), optional underwing road and street course strakes, an optional speedway infill wicker (also allowed at Texas) and new pillar specs that create 3 more degrees of range on the adjustable rear wing that gives teams the option to add additional (or take away more) downforce

>>Continued use of the EM Motorsports Telemetry and EM Marshalling systems tested at various tracks in 2022 that are designed to, among other things, make red and yellow flag calls more visible to drivers on-track and allow those calls to be relayed quicker.