IRL expects smaller field in 2009

Indy Racing League president of competition Brian Barnhart has admitted that next year's IndyCar Series is likely to see smaller grids - and said he was frustrated that the US open wheel reunification had coincided with an economic downturn

IRL expects smaller field in 2009

The merged IndyCar championship featured 26-car fields for most of 2008, but many teams are finding it difficult to raise sponsorship for next season.

KV Racing's future is in doubt as the loss of the Surfers Paradise race is set to lead to main sponsor Craig Gore's departure, Rahal Letterman Racing's main backer Ethanol is reportedly unlikely to return, and Newman/Haas/Lanigan have informed Justin Wilson that they might have to scale back to a single-car team.

Barnhart said that IndyCar racing deserved to be in buoyant shape given reunification and breakthrough events such as Danica Patrick and Graham Rahal's maiden victories, and that the global economic problems had come at a very bad time for the series.

"With all of those events creating positive momentum, it's just amazing the bad timing that we have to be facing the world economic situation that we're facing," he told Indianapolis radio station 1070 The Fan.

"That's going to affect not just the smaller teams, but the bigger teams. While we're getting a sense from KV, Newman/Haas, and everyone who contested this season, of how badly they want to continue in 2009, we have a full understanding that everyone is facing some significant economic challenges."

He hopes that the series will only lose a handful of teams.

"I don't know that we could come back and run 26 full-time, just based on the economics we're seeing worldwide," said Barnhart.

"I would expect some sort of reduction, we're certainly hoping for a minimal one. I think something in the 22-24 range, I'd be tickled with."

But despite his concerns over the teams' financial situation, Barnhart ruled out following NASCAR's example and banning private testing, although he intimated that restrictions would be introduced.

"Cutting private testing completely away could have a different effect on our series than it does in Cup," Barnhart said.

"We're trying to balance sustainability of our existing owners with attracting new owners and new drivers. If a new team or a rookie driver is trying to come to your series and isn't allowed to test, there's not much likelihood that they're going to join your series. When you're sitting on 43-plus cars, like Cup is, that's probably not a situation they're too worried about, so a ban on testing may work for them.

"We'll probably have some form of testing, but it will certainly be controlled in 2009."

The IndyCar team owners recently held a meeting in Las Vegas to discuss their concerns about costs and the economy, and Barnhart said the IRL welcomed their input.

"We've had a couple of conversations and it's been very productive," he said. "We've got an open mind and are listening to what they have to say. The intentions are good, and that's the most important aspect. They're looking at things that are truly in the best interests of the series."

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