Sunday, January 27, 2013

New in 2013!

After a bit of a hibernation the last few weeks, IndyCar hit us with a plethora of news over the course of the last few days.

Other than Alex Tagliani finally resigning with Barracuda Racing -- they were gaining their legs late last year and I could see them winning a race in 2013 -- the biggest tidbits came in the form of the new rulebook. Now that I have had a bit of time to digest some of the changes, I figured I'd share my thoughts on them.

So anyway, here we go. By the way, a few of these aren't rulebook stuff per se, but they represent real changes that the fans will see.

*Recounting the laps. The one that the fans will notice the most is that four of the races will be changing in distance, with St. Pete adding 10 laps to go to 110, Milwaukee will increase 25 laps to an even 250 miles, Mid-Ohio will tack on five laps (85 to 90) while the race distance for Long Beach will decrease by five laps, from 85 to 80.

The intended purpose of the change is to try and eliminate fuel mileage racing by making the race fall in line with regular fuel windows. With fuel no longer a concern, the thought goes, teams would turn drivers loose to go hard.

In theory, that's all good, but I don't know how much that will change things. As long as pit stops that include fuel are involved, conserving will be part of the strategy, it's that simple. Race tactics are narrowed down to the nth degree, and fuel mileage is part of that, no matter the race distance. No matter what, teams will still want to stretch fuel between stops because if you can eliminate a stop or stretch the time between stops by a lap or two you are ahead of the game.

Perfect example: I'm watching the Rolex 24 as I write this, and what are they talking about? Fuel. Twenty-three and a half hours in, and a 2,000-plus mile race is coming down to who has the most fuel left. That's racing!

But at the same time, the move is great for the fans because it makes the races longer! St. Pete and Milwaukee will be 10 percent longer, how can that be a bad thing? I'm especially excited about Milwaukee, more because it is on my list of races to see in person this year. The more laps, the merrier.

*Practice your starts. The doubleheaders at Toronto and Houston could have some different looks as it was announced that Race 1 of each weekend would be a standing start and Race 2 would be of the traditional rolling variety.

I think standing starts are something that have been a long time coming (they were used in the end days of CART), and I'm looking forward to seeing them. There is a different type of drama involved in a standing start. It's cool to see F1 cars pull up to their starting spots and then hear the engines go into this insane whine before the lights go off and they are away.

It seems that people are a little worried about it becoming an epic fail and there could be some sort of incident. Really, though, how is that different from any other IndyCar race? How many road/street courses saw every car go through the first corner clean last year? I don't think we should avoid standing starts because we are worried about the worst thing that can happen. After all, it happens a time or two a year in F1 and no one thinks the worse of it, and these guys are professional race car drivers. I think part of that job description involves being able to execute a standing start properly. But that's just me.

What it also helps to avoid is the nasty-looking starts that the series has become known for, where the first few cars bolt to the line before everyone is in formation and they throw the green anyway. I hate that way more than any possible snafus that could come from a standing start. Now THOSE are embarrassing.

*Iowa. I'm singling Iowa out because one, it's my second favorite circuit behind Indy and two, since it has a unique qualifying procedure, which was tweaked, hopefully for the better.

The idea of heat races was good in theory, but last year the actual races themselves were pretty flat. If you were in the slow heat there wasn't much incentive to drive hard, and if you were in the fastest heat you didn't want to mess up your car for the show.

The new change this year has the top two finishers in each of the first two heat races transfer to the final heat for the six fastest qualifiers. So basically if you have a screw-up in qualifying you get a bit of a mulligan.

I hope the changes Beaux Barfield and Co. made to the heat races helps, because last year was more of a glorified practice session. While heat races are part of the roots of Midwest racing, the way the guys "raced" last year just won't cut it in the future in terms of fan interest. Of course, the way it looks now there won't be much interest if it is shown tape delay like last year, but that is a conversation for a different time.

*Speaking of points. Yet another change revolved around points. Now a driver gets a point for leading a lap, with the driver who leads the most picking up two points. Also, positions 19-25 in the final classification will see a decrease in points, as opposed to all of those positions being worth the same.

I'm not going to go all stat-geek and rescore last year using the new format to see what changed, but I bet it would have changed them, and perhaps even brought a driver or two into the hunt into Fontana. Put it this way: Last year Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power finished 19th or worse three times and Scott Dixon twice. Helio Castroneves' worst finish was if you were to score it like this year, he could have been, what, 15-20 points closer? All of the sudden, was it possible we could have had three, or maybe even four, drivers in the championship hunt heading to Fontana?

I don't feel like doing that exhaustive research, but if someone else wants to figure it out, cool.

It's pretty simple: the more points you award the more of a chance you have of having more drivers in the championship hunt at the end.

I'm all about points, because points and money are what these drivers (and teams) race for, after all. You put points (or money, in terms of enough to get people out of bed in the morning) on something and they will go after them.

I brought up this idea and got flamed for it on Twitter, but why not make Fontana (or whatever race is the finale) worth double points? If you are going to call it a "championship" race, put more points on the line and give more drivers a chance to win.

Some may argue that it could lead to a driver who isn't "deserving" win a title. Really? Let's say you made Fontana worth double last year and Castroneves and Dixon were brought back into the mix. They win the title...would either of them be less deserving? Nope.

Another argument is that why would you make a race worth more points than the Indy 500? OK, you got me there. If that is the case, make it worth more too.

I don't see that as "gimmicky". I see it as weighing some races as more important than others, and if that is set ahead of time, and everyone knows the rules and adjusts accordingly, it's just a rule.

So those are my thoughts for the season now only eight weeks away?

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