IndyCar restarts drawing mixed reactions from drivers
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Birmingham, AL (Sports Network) -
What a wreck the IZOD IndyCar Series has created so far with its new double-file restart format. The first two races this season have featured enough scrap metal to fill up a junkyard, thanks in part to numerous multi-car wrecks that have occurred after restarts.
In January, IndyCar officials announced a revised restart procedure that is similar to NASCAR's current side-by-side restart format. The procedure was originally implemented for just oval tracks, but after receiving additional input from drivers, teams and fans, officials incorporated it for road/street courses as well, beginning with last month's season-opener in St. Petersburg, Florida. The May 29 Indianapolis 500 is the first oval race on this year's schedule.
Officials expected side-by-side restarts to be entertaining for the fans and to further intensify on-track action. What they didn't anticipate is the amount of mayhem its created up to this point.
Some drivers are happy with the rule change, while others are having some issues with it.
A rash of accidents occurred in the first 14 laps at St. Pete, including a six-car incident that happened on the first turn of the opening lap. Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves bumped into each other, which triggered the pileup and caused Andretti's car to flip upside down.
Count Marco Andretti among the drivers that are not happy with the rule change.
"I think having the cars start so close together is great for the fans, but it wasn't good for me today," Andretti said after his crash in the March 27 race at St. Pete.
There were four restarts in just the first 16 laps in the season-opener.
Andretti finished 24th at St. Pete, but rebounded with a fourth-place run on Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park.
In wake of the St. Pete fiasco, officials made specific tweaks to the restart procedure used at Barber.
During the pre-race drivers' meeting for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, officials informed teams that the restart acceleration zone would begin 325 feet from the start/finish line, compared to 200 feet at St. Pete. The restart speed would also increase by 10 m.p.h. at Barber.
"I can't stress the importance of everyone getting through the first lap cleanly," IndyCar President of Competition and Racing Operations Brian Barnhart said during the meeting. "Ninety laps is a long day. Don't make a bad decision on lap one."
The first lap at Barber did not feature a major crash like St. Pete, but an incident did occur on that lap when Raphael Matos got bumped from behind while entering turn six. Matos spun around on the grass and then backed it hard into the barrier.
Things calmed down from there until shortly before the halfway point when a full-course caution came for an incident involving Alex Tagliani. Then the chaos began, with a series of accidents happening after restarts.
After the Barber race, which took two hours and 15 minutes to complete, most drivers had a more favorable opinion of the double-file restarts than they did at St. Pete.
"I think it was better," said Kanaan, who started 24th and finished an impressive sixth. "At least for the fans and for racing, it looked more exciting. I still believe we need to try to take care of each other a little more. Every one of them [restarts], we had a crash, so it's not a coincidence. But every one of them we have a lot of passing too, so it's a trade there.
"It's only the second race. I would give us a chance for us to settle in and make sure that's going to work."
Not all were happy campers though.
Second-place finisher Scott Dixon was not pleased with Will Power's restart tactics. Power had the most impressive performance in his IndyCar career so far, starting on the pole and leading all 90 laps for the win at Barber.
Even though IndyCar's rule for double-file restarts states that the race leader has column/lane selection, Dixon complained that Power was switching his lane from the outside to the inside on certain restarts.
"If you look at the restarts, I'm pretty much on the grass almost," Dixon said. He's even over the center line on the right part of the center line. I know why he's doing it. He's trying to get out of the dirty side. But you can't have the best of both worlds. If you're going to pick the inside and then run the car on the right, that's not how it should be."
Officials did note during the drivers' meeting that crossing the center line prior to the green flag waving for a restart is prohibited.
"If they are going to implement these rules and tell you in the drivers' meeting that the person on the left has to be to the left center of the line, then enforce it," Dixon added.
Power didn't think he did anything wrong.
"I think the rule is that you can be anywhere on the track after the start/finish line, Power said. "That's what I was told on the start/finish line.
"I was told on the radio that [Dixon] was upset with me for putting him almost in the grass. I would have given him more room. I didn't realize that's what the problem was. All he did is come up beside me and take a big weave at me. If they told me what the problem was, I would have helped him out there."
IndyCar travels to Southern California this coming weekend to compete on the streets of Long Beach, California. Then its off to South America to run on the street circuit in Sao Paulo, Brazil on May 1.
In the meantime, IndyCar needs to further review its restart format to avoid any further controversies. Hopefully, this issue will be resolved in time for next month's Indy 500.