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Cheaper leases, engine and safety mods announced at IndyCar winter meetings

The annual IZOD IndyCar Series winter meetings were held today at the snow-bound Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and some critical adjustments to IndyCar rules and cost structures were confirmed by president of competition Brian Barnhart.

As expected, the in-cockpit multi-setting fuel mixture knobs will be altered to have only two settings - normal and "yellow" for caution periods - which the IndyCar Series hopes will improve the level of competition on the track by making the fuel consumption issue a more fluid and less predictable one. An Xtrac reverse-gear transmission package for road courses was also confirmed.

Drivers were pleased to hear that the "Honda overtake assist" feature (commonly referred to as "push-to-pass") will provide nearly double the horsepower boost available from last year's settings.

"Teams and drivers can still save fuel because they can develop their own fuel strategy, but instead of having a mechanical device to achieve it they can use their right foot," Indy Racing League senior technical director Les Mactaggart told IndyCar.com's Dave Lewandowski. "It will allow the drivers more strategy during the event. If they want to save fuel they can by controlling the throttle and equally so the overtake assist will be more effective because they'll have more horsepower. The strategy really is to try to give the drivers more choice."

On the safety front, a "floating headrest" developed by IRL director of engineering Jeff Horton that adds foam cushioning to the current cockpit configuration was recommended for implementation league-wide. The new headrest is expected to reduce the intensity of G-forces in rearward crashes, which historically have accounted for nearly three-fourths of the IndyCar Series' driver injuries.

Especially attractive to cash-strapped teams mired in the midst of the recent recession was the unveiling of new reduced lease rates for both full-season and Indy-only engine leases. A full-season effort will be $27,000 cheaper than last year's lease rates, while Indy-only programs will start at a mere $90,000 for a "short Indy" lease with a 1000-mile budget.