Record purse, qualifying changes set for 104th Indy 500

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France's Simon Pagenaud, kissing the winner's trophy after capturing last year's Indianapolis 500, is expected to be among the racers competing for a record purse announced Friday of more than $15 million for the 104th Indy 500 on May 24 (AFP Photo/CLIVE ROSE)

Washington (AFP) - Drivers will chase a record $15 million purse at the 104th Indianapolis 500 while the last-row qualifying format that foiled Fernando Alonso last year has been changed for this year's event.

Famed US race team owner Roger Penske, who bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series last year, announced changes Friday, 100 days before the May 24 classic on the famed 2.5-mile (4km) oval.

Penske, who turns 83 on Thursday, also unveiled major renovations to the 110-year-old facility, including more than 30 new giant videoscreens.

"I'm very excited," Penske said. "It's part of a long-term plan to ensure the legendary status of the speedway continues to grow and evolve for generations to come."

The total purse will jump by $2 million to more than $15 million, surpassing the old record of $14.4 million set in 2008.

Simon Pagenaud took $2,669,529 last year from a $13,090,536 total purse after becoming the first Frenchman since 1920 to win the Indy 500.

Two-time Formula One champion Alonso was foiled in his bid to qualify for last year's Indy 500 after finishing fourth among six hopefuls vying for the last three spots in the 33-car field.

The Spaniard was on the bubble with last-driver Kyle Kaiser, in his first laps of the day, eclipsing Alonso's four-lap qualifying speed average to edge him out by 0.0129 of a second.

Each race team had only one chance to make the field but this year's May 17 Last Row Shootout will expand to 75 minutes with multiple attempts per car allowed, boosting the tension and drama of the fight simply to make the race-day lineup.