Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lotus Needs To Give 105 Percent This Weekend

A few rumors had floated around the internets this afternoon about the status of the Lotus cars being driven by Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi this weekend. Not knowing who to believe, I threw a tweet at race steward Beaux Barfield, in whose hands the call rests.

I asked him if he could clarify some of the rumors, and he graciously replied:

Rumors can fly in 140 characters. Clarifications cannot. I'm sure it will be in the news shortly.

So lo and behold John Oreovicz quotes Barfield in this ESPN piece that should put all of the discussion to bed. According to IndyCar rules, cars must run within 105 percent of the leader, which in this case will be about 10 mph. With most of the top cars in race trim running in the 216-218 range (at least that's what they were doing in Sunday's practice), the Loti will have to pedal it to keep up, especially given the fact that they will have their Time Trial weekend boost dropped to normal levels.

First, that is a good call. Of course in the past the powers that be would allow cars to run more boost to be competitive -- like a generation ago when the Buicks would get more than everyone else. If they had updated that rule to give Lotus a chance prior to the start of May, I would have been on board. But a change this late in the game is unfair to all other teams involved. 

So they race what they brung. Barfield had a good comment in the story:

"I'm certainly willing, based on the two Lotus drivers' ability, to let them start the race and see how it plays out and see what their race pace is compared to everybody else," Barfield added. "We'll do what we need to do to keep them up to speed or get them out of the way."

Meaning, he will show them enough respect to give them a chance, but should they become a hazard to the rest of the field he won't hesitate to park them. This goes contrary to a story floating around that had IndyCar pulling them before the race even started, which would have been the crappiest scenario they could've put together.

I don't worry about the drivers involved, because they are both accomplished and can handle the situation well. De Silvestro is in her third year in IndyCar and this will be her third 500, while Alesi is running his first oval race of his career, he has run 201 races in Formula 1 and has been driving professionally for more than a quarter century. With patience, good strategy and an excellent spotter (1996 winner Buddy Lazier has been working with Alesi, could he be upstairs on Sunday?) Alesi should make it through.

The strategy of just running a pace and seeing what happens was long a strategy of underfunded teams, who would turn laps well below race pace and hope to move up through attrition. Sometimes it would pay off, as they might finish a race 10 laps down but still earn a top-10 finish.

An example of that was in 1991, when Gordon Johncock started 33rd, drove in circles for three hours and finished sixth, 12 laps off the pace and nine laps back of fifth-place John Andretti. Johncock drove smart and stayed out of everyone's way. That year also saw rookie Hiro Matshusita have engine problems but still running at the finish despite being 51 laps down. I was there, Hiro was woefully off the pace.

However, they had the advantage that many of the cars were all running different paces. The Indy 500 was once an endurance race, and you did what you had to make it to the end. Now it is just a really long sprint. Think about it, when 12 cars finish on the lead lap and 23 finish within three laps of the lead, as was the case last year, if you are running slow you don't get passed by a couple of cars, you get run over by a 20-car train.

A smart driver can work around that, and some smart people in race control need to be paying attention. I think Barfield understands what is going on. If last year's race was dubbed "The Most Important Race In History", this year's is a close second.

(Sidebar: I disagree with both, as in my mind the 1946 race was the most important. Read here.)

I think everyone in IndyCar knows what is at stake. This is the first oval race since Las Vegas, with new cars and new rules. His spiking the double-file restarts and promising a more disciplined start to the race is a sign he knows what is going on. So with that in mind I'm going to make the call that eventually they will get it right.

Worst comes to worse, they enforce the rule. For some reason, this regime doesn't find that idea all that difficult.


  1. Totally agree with you on the 1946, Mike!

  2. I would totaly agree but for the fact indycar forced these teams to use this engine package