A couple thoughts on last weekend’s IndyCar doubleheader in Toronto. (Story with results here)
First, the decision to not race on Saturday. At first I thought it was bullshit, or horseshit or some kind of shit. You got rain tires, put them on and drive with your brain engaged. But, then again, I’m no race car driver, and it’s usually folly to try to judge such matters based on TV images.
So here I give credit to IndyCar for hustling out president of competition and operations Derrick Walker to explain what the official thinking was. Walker was on TV twice, as best I can recollect, including a good little Q & A with host Bob Varsha who, rather than lob in the softballs (“IndyCar really does put driver safety first, doesn’t it?”) he asked the simple questions about why they were not racing. Not the leading questions, just the questions viewers were all wondering about.
So, they postponed the whole deal to Sunday, and I thought hte reasoning was adequately communicated. Whether or not you agree with the reasoning is a whole different issue. At least we heard from IndyCar as to why they were doing what they were doing.
Sunday's Double Dip
Sunday was two races, each a bit shortened, primarily (we were told) so IndyCar didn’t hog up the track time. Unlike the ovals, when IndyCar goes to a street race there are usually many other races on that track that weekend. So you have cars on the track all day. Those races got rained out too Saturday so IndyCar had to share. I had no problem with it.
The drivers were willing to drive two street races in a row, which we’re told are grueling, so I appreciated that. It seemed like IndyCar did the best it could with a challenging situation, track schedule wise. Sebastien Bourdais won the first race and Mike Conway won the second. Story here.
The second race turned out to be a timed race, so that raised some UMBRAGE among some people. Remember UMBRAGE is generally good. I think one of the issues was, rather than have a big pre-race ceremony etc. given the limited track time, why not just get the kids in their cars and go racing as soon as possible to get all the laps in? The answer to that depends on if the driver introductions and podium ceremonies are important or at least sacrificable. Me, I could do without both, honestly. But for other fans that’s a big deal. They like to see their driver introduced, walk across the stage, etc. Sponsors of the event like to step up to the mic at pre-race and get their name out over the public address system. Likewise the post-race stuff. Some fans and sponsors are big into it, so having it going on while another series is on the track warming up if not racing would make them churlish.
So I’m not bunched up about the conduct of Sunday’s races.
You’ll notice that there is a lot of positive above this point. There's a lot of credit to IndyCar for doing things right (in my opinion). Please look above this right now and say “pressdog is giving them credit for some stuff up there.”
IndyCar has a red flag problem. Late in Race 2, IndyCar officials red flagged the race with about four minutes remaining after a crash. It seemed pretty clear to me – although I’ve seen no reporting on it so far – that the red was thrown to preserve a green finish. In other words, get the cars off the track, stop them clicking down laps (or time in this case), get the mess cleaned up, restart the race, finish green … rather than just have the cars continue to circulate under yellow and run out the clock/click off all the laps while the cleanup continued.
Whether or not that was right is one debate, but the problem I see is inconsistency.
Again, I don’t know what the official reason for the red flag was. Was it a legit track blockage or safety concern? Was it a “track blockage” (wink wink). Or was it straight up to preserve the green finish, which is not provided for in the rulebook to the best of my knowledge, aside from the 18-mile-wide “discretion of the stewards” provision.
I’m actually OK with using the red to reserve a green finish. It seems to be a nice compromise between finishing yellow and the NASCAR overtime Green-White-Checker rule. The principle argument against the GWC rule (aside from hating anything from NASCAR) is that it artificially extends the race distance by adding laps under certain circumstances.
But, at least the GWC rule is a rule, and ..
- it’s written down and understood by everyone
- triggered under certain non-subjective circumstances
- in effect for all races.
IndyCar’s red flag “rule” is none of the above. So what IndyCar needs to do is go all or nothing with the red flag thing. Either make a rule, write it down, get it to all the teams and put it into effect for ALL races or don’t.
Maybe the fans at Toronto “deserved” a green finish for sitting in the rain all day. I don’t argue that. But if they “deserve” a green finish, how come the fans at Barber or Houston didn’t deserve one too? You see the problem of treating groups of fans unequally. I’d be pretty pissed right now if I paid to see a race that finished under yellow that was avoidable by discretionary use of the red flag. I’d be saying “I guess other fans are more deserving and loved than me.”
So here’s how you begin to draft a red-flag rule for IndyCar (note to the anal, this is just a starting point that would have to be reviewed and tweaked by all the shareholders in said decision, so simmer down):
“If the yellow flag is displayed within as many as 10 laps or as few as 5 laps from the end of a race, if, in the opinion of the stewards, cleanup will take longer than the laps remaining under yellow will allow, the red flag will be displayed, and all cars parked until the track is ready to resume racing. Once the track is ready, the field will take two yellow laps, then receive the green flag. If the yellow flag is again displayed before the end of the race, the red flag will not be displayed again for the purposes of preserving a green finish, only for the purposes of a blocked track or safety worker safety.”
Or words to that effect. You’d want to tweak the red flag window, of course, etc. etc. I spent 49 seconds on the draft above. I don’t think writing a real rule and having it be reviewed and commented upon and finally adopted would be too difficult.
But if you codify it, then it removes some of the subjectivity. Sure, race control will still have to judge if the track can get cleared late without having to use the red. Maybe someone rolls it with 10 to go, but it’s a simple clean up, and the track is green again with 7 to go so there’s no need for the red flag. That sort of thing.
As it is now, IndyCar has ripped open a Pandora’s Box. Fans are going to expect to see the red late in the race if there are enough laps remaining to stop the race, have a couple of yellow laps to warm back up and go racing for at least two final laps. It’s the Red-Yellow-Yellow-Green-White-Checker rule.
All I ask is to make the decision, get it down in writing, and go forward. Now it’s too subjective. But, the beauty of doing it this subjective way is that it avoids the heat from people who would oppose it. I think there’s a de facto rule in IndyCar right now, even if it’s not written down. So write it down, deal with the debate honestly, and move on.