Sunday, January 16, 2011

Figuring Out Starts/Restarts at Indy

There has been a lot of talk about restart procedures in the INDYCAR series since it was announced last week that the races will go to double-file restarts on ovals beginning at either Indy or Texas.

Many of the drivers have expressed their concern about the change, and they all have their reasons. But playing devil's advocate here...I can understand their feelings, but at the same time, they drive race cars for a living. They should be able to figure it out.

Me, I'm not going to pass judgement just yet until I see it in action a couple of times. Should the drivers "figure it out" and and not all try to dive into turn one like bats out of hell (like they do now) it should work fine.

That said, 1) I don't want them to take this out of the box for Indy and 2) despite the fact it might "work" (meaning we don't have a pile of wrecked cars) it still doesn't solve any problems.

Besides, when it comes to Indy (or every oval track for that matter), two issues exist: the start of the race is the most ragged and pathetic in racing and restarts are not much better. You can stack the cars up as many wide as you want...if the procedures aren't in place to fix the true problem, it really doesn't matter.

In both cases, the drivers start racing to the green flag much earlier than they should. At the start of the race, the front row begins racing coming out of turn 4. The rest of the field begins following suit and soon everyone is strung out all over the place.

2009. And this was after they waved off the first one!
Here are starts from the last two years. The 2009 start is a photo of a Christmas card I received from the Speedway (apologies for the poor quality). This year's was better, but not much. At least in that one some of the cars were aligned in the back, but the front had yet to cross the line "the 'official' start of the race" but were already getting set up for the first turn.

That's just ugly.

I know that Brian Barnhart wants the field to be strung out a little so there is no three-wide racing into the first turn, but what we have now is a total aberration. One of the 500's great traditions is the "flying" start, and I recall in race programs I have from years ago that start was supposed to be at approximately 100 mph. But if you look at the fastest first lap ever, 217.728 recorded by Tony Kanaan in 2007, that's not a flying start, that is called being close to flat-out before the drop of the green flag.

Getty Images
On restarts, the driver in the lead is given control of the field with one lap to go in a caution period and is responsible for bringing the field to the line. Most of them start winding it up somewhere in the North Chute, which is over a half-mile from the start/finish line!

It's obvious that you can't allow the drivers to hold that responsibility and police themselves. So then it becomes the job of race control to do it for them.

First of all, I think the pace car should stay on the track for as long as it can. Hence the word "pace". They should stay just in front of the field and not pull off until the entrance to pit road. Once the pace car has given up control of the field, the cars should not be able to start accelerating until the leader passes a point that is clearly spelled out in the driver's meeting and clearly marked in as many places as possible, whether that be on the fence, the walls or even the racing surface itself.

It sounds harsh, but put the burden on the race leader. Just like the entrance to pit road, put a radar gun at that acceleration line. If he/or she is blantantly over that speed (say 10 percent) they get black-flagged and given a penalty. I've always believed a race leader is allowed some rights and priviledges, but jumping the rest of the field should not be one of them. If the leader isn't speeding here then the rest of the field likely wouldn't be, either.

Coming out of catuion periods, once the green falls passing until the start/finish line should not be allowed. At the start of the race there is some leeway there of course. But one thing that shouldn't be allowed is people running a fly pattern on the outside and picking cars off before getting to the line.

While it is exciting to watch a guy like Kanaan rush up from the back and take down eight cars on the first lap, it's also not really fair. And if more than one person gets this idea, it might lead to an incident.

On the restarts, though, it should be fairly rigid. You can set the guy in front of you up, you can pull your nose up to his front tires, that's fine. But until they hit that stripe, they cannot improve their position.

Maybe in the past that might have led to some judgement decisions, but now the technology is in place with the transponders that objective calls can be easily made. Simply have a way for the computers to highlight or flag a driver that improved their position and decide what to do from there.

I mean come on, if there is a way that in the real world a camera knows how to take a picture of a car in an intersection when a light turns red, I believe they could come up with something to make this happen.

This is a big problem, and with a lighter car with more power and a turbocharger waiting in 2012 (presumably giving the cars the ability to wind up faster), it has to be addressed. While some of these suggestions appear draconian and seem to head the other way from the "entertainment for the fans" factor, I actually believe that setting definitive rules and enforcing them would be the best way to make restarts more exciting. Actually having to execute something on a restart would put the skill of the driver back into play, while right now it is about getting on the gas first and winning drag races.

1 comment:

  1. Man, that 2009 start was not pretty!

    I remember after last year's 500, drivers were saying Lloyd had been jumping the restart going into as early as Turn 3. That's not to single him out or demean his fine finish there, but it's something I'd like to see go away.