It’s Finally Time For The New Rules

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As we are heading into the last third of the season, the stories that will be front and center at Kentucky this week are all of the new changes that the teams will get to play with this weekend. The idea is to do ANYTHING that will make the oval races more competitive than what we have been subjected to this season. Except for Iowa, most of the oval races this weekend have been a series of pit-stop competitions sandwiched in between several single file parades that have not been worth watching. I applaud the league for recognizing that there was a problem and actually taking action in mid-season, rather than waiting until the off-season.

Most of the goodies that were given to the teams are nothing new. They are simply tools that had previously been taken away by the league in an effort to level the playing field and contain costs. Most of these additions are parts such as flip-ups ahead of the rear-wheels, wheel-rim backing plates, sidepod extensions and other parts that will either reduce drag or increase down force. Altogether, the changes will provide a total of 300 pounds of additional downforce made available to the teams

Probably the most significant change will be the removal of the rear end-plate half-inch wickerbill. These have been determined to be part of the culprit in creating turbulence behind the cars that made it so difficult for another car to get near and pass. Supposedly, this will allow cars to get closer to each other and create some of the side-by-side racing that the IRL used to be so famous for.

One change that is new is the overtake button that will be on all cars starting this weekend. This will operate a little differently than the “push to pass” button that Champ Car utilized in the earlier part of this decade. The biggest difference is the amount of power that a push of the button will generate. In Champ Car, it produced an additional fifty horsepower. The IRL version will generate anywhere from an additional five to twenty horsepower, depending on where the driver has the fuel knob set. If the driver is conserving fuel with a lean setting, it will be an additional twenty horsepower. If the driver is already running full rich, then the gain is as little as five horsepower.

The reason that the Champ Car button produced so much more is the turbocharger. With a normally aspirated engine, that’s about all you could get without detuning the engine for the majority of the race. That was not something that Honda wanted to consider.

Another difference in this version of “push to pass” is how it is rationed. In Champ Car, each driver was given an extra amount of boost in the turbocharger for a total of sixty seconds. If the driver held the button down for only three seconds to help him make a pass, he had fifty-seven more seconds of use for that race. He had to be careful and choose when to use it, hopefully saving several seconds for the very end.

The IRL version is quite different, and will change slightly from track to track. At Kentucky, each driver will be allowed to press the overtake button twenty times within the race. Each time the button is pressed, the driver will immediately have the extra horsepower for twelve seconds. At the end of the twelve seconds, the setting returns to the normal setting and the button is deactivated for the next ten seconds. This should set up some interesting scenarios of swapping passes between drivers.

So what will all of this mean for Kentucky on Saturday night? Should we expect something to resemble some of the Texas races in the earlier part of this decade? Probably not, but no one is really sure.

Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee had Kevin Blanch, the Technical Director for the IndyCar Series, as their radio guest on Wednesday night. He was very thorough at explaining these new rules. He was also very candid in admitting that this is all a work in progress. When asked why the IRL chose the twenty pushes for twelve seconds, his response was refreshingly honest. He basically said that if this doesn’t work out the way it is, they may very well end up with the way Champ Car had it.

I don’t know what to expect Saturday night. I don’t know that anyone else completely knows, either. One thing I am certain of however, is that the race at Kentucky will probably be very entertaining. I don’t expect the overtake button to make that much of a difference. I just don’t think the increase in power will be that significant. What I do expect to make a huge difference is to finally have those half-inch wickers off of the rear-wing endfence. According to Kevin Blanch, that will make the car approaching from behind handle much more comfortably, where the leaders will actually be able to lap the last-placed car. What a novel concept!

The best part about this whole new package that the league is handing the teams; is that it gives everyone options and different choices. No longer is everyone running the exact same equipment, much to the chagrin of some of the spec series fans. Some teams will make the right choices, while some will choose wrong. Finally, the Indy racing League has taken steps to put some intrigue back into racing. I blasted them in June for seemingly sitting on their collective hands and doing nothing. Now, give them credit for trying.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “It’s Finally Time For The New Rules”

  1. I will be at the KY race and looking forward to the changes. I just wonder with all the changes, mostly the “Push 2 Pass” button, how will the drivers handle it without ever testing it? Another question will all the teams have the button installed? Because I also read that this was an “option” to use, and smaller teams for example Sarah Fisher Racing are they able to afford these changes?

    • oilpressure Says:

      It is my understanding that all teams will have the overtake button. If anyone knows anything different, please let me know. — GP

  2. I’m all for trying something, anything, to make the racing better. My biggest concern however, is the marbles. On many of the ovals this season, after a long green flag run the marbles were so bad the track was reduced to a single groove for racing. Even if they had the extra power to pass, and the aero packages had not prevented them from slingshotting, they’d wouldn’t have been able to get around the car ahead of them without losing it on the marbles.

  3. James O. Says:

    I’m relatively new at reading the blogs, Robin Miller’s mailbag, and a lot of the extra news and background stuff you don’t normally get by simply watching the broadcasts. But I’m struck by what seems like an atmosphere of near-desperation on what to do about the racing. On one hand I like the fact that they’re trying to be active and nimble and Do Something Now. But on the other hand, I wonder what’s going under in the part of the iceberg we can’t see. It’s as if there’s an ultimatum going on: Fix It Now or We’re Closing Our Doors.

    I’m skeptical that the IRL would really go under, but this whole situation feels closer to panic than intelligent design.

    • oilpressure Says:

      I think this will serve as a “quick fix” until the new cars come out hopefully in 2012. I don’t see it as a panic move, but doing nothing would be bad. — GP

      • I’m trying to think of another series-sport where rule changes are imposed mid-season. Can you imagine MLB saying, “we think there’s not enough scoring, so beginning Aug 1, we’re going to allow cork in the bags, lower the pitcher’s mound an inch, and move the foul lines out 10′ each direction?

        Ultimately, the question is, for me anyway, WHY are they doing it? How much are “the fans” going to contribute to their bottom line? They’ve already inked a deal with VS, so unless they get some kind of cut based on ratings and ad revenue, TV doesn’t matter. I would think it’ll take a while to truly affect gate attendence. T-shirts and posters &c has never been marketed well and I can’t imagine that having a big upswing in the short term.

        My guess is that they’re trying to throw bones to their teams and make them look more attractive to sponsors. There is little reason to sponsor someone like Mike Conway when you know the only airtime he’ll get is when he’s being scraped off the wall and the team’s pie-in-the-sky goal is simply to finish on lead lap. If they can make the teams more competitive and give the back markers more of a chance to finish well, it may help with sponsorship. Since the IRL is ailing, they *need* that.

        But I am a cynic. ;)

  4. Don’t applaud the IRL for realizing anything. They made the “problem” on purpose, with “malice aforethought,” so to speak. The IRL has known all along what the solution to the fan’s complaints is, but they play dumb because they don’t want to talk about it.

    Fans want side by side pack racing, and the league doesn’t. Dan Wheldon was asked on a radio broadcast about the “problem,” and his reply was (paraphrasing), “Do you want me to tell you what the problem really is? You’re going to get me in trouble!”

    They—”they” meaning the league, the teams, the drivers—decided that side by side pack racing was too dangerous, and they implemented changes to spread the field out and limit speeds.

    Think back to the race at Chicago last year. Was there anything wrong with that race? Looked like classic wheel to wheel IRL goodness to me, replete with the obligatory photo finish that requires atomic clock accuracy to determine the winner.

    Now ask yourself a question: Why did the IRL make changes to the package for the Chicago race? I’m not talking about the recent “improvements” we’re seeing for the first time at Kentucky. I mean that after last year’s race they mandated changes to the race package for Chicago.

    Gettin’ the picture?

    The fans want one thing, the league wants another. Yesterday TK said what the league doesn’t really want drivers saying: we’ve been making changes because we thought the racing was too dangerous, but “now we are racing for the fans.”

    Let’s just hope nobody ends up in the fence.

  5. James O. Says:

    People end up in the fence regardless. Cold tires seem to be far more dangerous than passing.

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