The Pros and Cons of IndyCar's New Restart Procedure
Dario Franchitti, Boston.com
We’re fresh from a solid third-place performance at Barber Motorsports Park, and we get right back into it this weekend at Long Beach. There’s no time to lose, but there is time to talk about the big change in IndyCar racing this year: Double-file restarts.
As you probably noticed, our restarts are different this year in the IZOD IndyCar Series. When we take the green flag after a caution period, we line up side-by-side, which is totally different for this form of racing. It’s quite tricky, especially on certain road and street courses – not to mention Indianapolis Motor Speedway – but it worked out rather well Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park.
The idea for double-file restarts came from team owners, who lobbied for the change during the off-season to kick-start the action for the crowd and the TV audience. The owners are getting some fairly substantial bills now for all of the damage early on, but the plan began to sort itself out at Barber. Visually it looks better on TV to have us coming into the first turn together, but it can be scary for those of us involved.
It definitely creates more passing opportunities, which is both good and bad. It’s good for the guys chasing the leaders, but it’s not so good for the leader – or sometimes even for others just behind the first few rows. It’s not good for anyone who has worked to build up a lead on the car behind.
There are positives and negatives to it. Right now I’m OK with it – maybe because it hasn’t really hurt me yet – but I’m sure there are going to be times when it doesn’t work in my favor.
One of the tough things about it is vision. With the shape of our cars and the height of the rear wing, sometimes we’re completely blind to what’s going on ahead of the car in front of us. If you get close behind a car, you can’t see what’s going on with the cars two rows ahead. So if the leader brakes hard and you’re in the fifth row, you don’t see it. It creates a chain reaction that doesn’t affect the first few cars, but affects people farther back in line.
Every time we had a restart Sunday, I thought, “This is my chance to make up some ground,” and it worked out that way a couple of times. There was some interesting stuff going on during the restarts, and part of the reason it worked better was the track configuration. Turn 1 at Barber is a fourth-gear left-hander that allows us to go two-wide. At St. Pete, we went from a long, wide straightway into a very sharp and slow right-hander. It was much more difficult for everyone to be clean through a tough turn like that, but Barber’s layout made for better double-file action.
The new rule is a work in progress. It’s going to take some time to sort it out, and I’m not sure if it will work properly at every track. Indianapolis, for one, is going to be extremely difficult because of the narrow track itself and single-lane groove in the turns. And Sunday’s race at Long Beach is going to be difficult because of the same thing we faced at St. Pete – a long main straightaway into a very slow, sharp turn.
I have a positive view of the change now, but I’m sure that will be tempered by experience later on in the season. It’s safe to say that it will affect the championship in some way. I must admit that I’m nervous about how this works out. But right now, I like the way it’s progressing.
One thing to think about: The biggest accident we’ve had so far was at the very start at St. Pete. It wasn’t a restart, but the same double-file start procedure we’ve always used. The only difference was the later acceleration point. That crash was as much a product of people coming in too hard and braking too late than it was the new format. The restarts after that certainly weren’t perfect, but they got better. And the action on restarts at Barber was pretty interesting.
I actually managed to gain a spot or two on those restarts, so it wasn’t all bad. To finish third after I botched qualifying so badly is a positive sign. It also says something about Target Chip Ganassi Racing. I had a terrible test session at Barber earlier, so bad that we threw out all of the information we got from it, but that’s when it pays to have a great teammate.
Because of that bad test, we went to Scott Dixon’s setup for the race. It worked quite well. Scott and I share all of our data and talk constantly about what the cars feel like. If he likes something about my setup, he uses it, and I do the same with his. For this race, I borrowed his setup and then recovered after a terrible qualifying session. I went from seventh to third and finished behind Scott.
We’re still right in the thick of the championship race, but I don’t put too much credence in that, especially this early in the season. At this point, I just focus on the race in front of me. If you do that and perform to the best of your ability, the points will be there later in the season when it matters.
We definitely did our best as a team, and that’s all we can ask for. We just need to keep working hard this week at Long Beach and be faster in qualifying. Right now, I’m happy with the way things are going, and that’s all I can ask for.