The Indy Racing League is officially going in reverse.
For the first time since the IRL was formed in 1996, the open-wheel series has added a reverse gear to its cars. The hope is the gear will be especially useful for teams spinning out or otherwise venturing off course during the series’ nine street and road courses.
The technology to allow the reverse gear will be provided by IRL’s promotional partner Xtrac, and is designed to allow teams that encounter off-course troubles to rejoin the race faster than they would otherwise. IRL officials said the ability of cars to go backwards should also take some pressure off tracks’ safety crews. The reverse gear will debut March 14 at the race in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The kit, which series officials first considered making optional, then mandated, is inexpensive and easy to install, said Kevin Blanch, IRL technical director. Cars will continue to be outfitted with six forward gears, and the reverse gear will not be in place for oval races.
Most teams already have separate gear boxes for road and oval courses, so swapping them out shouldn’t be a big deal.
“We’ve been making updates every year—changing gear size, adding the paddle shift system—and it just happened to be the right time to put the gear in the car,” Blanch said. “It doesn’t make any of the parts obsolete; you just add the new kit. It’s on the drop gear side, so when the crew is making gear changes it doesn’t interfere. It just stays in the car the whole time.
“We thought about making it optional, but it needs to be a mandatory item because a lot of times you’ll get a couple of cars in a runoff. If the second car in didn’t have reverse and couldn’t back up, that’s not very fair to the other guy who spent the money to put the reverse in the car. That driver will be able to help himself.”