What’s Up With Starts & Re-Starts In 2012?

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Two of the more combustible items to come out of the State of IndyCar event in Indianapolis this week have produced predictable reactions among fans. The announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series has decided to do away with double-file restarts at Indianapolis, Texas and Fontana has caused considerable debate this week. Beaux Barfield also revealed on Tuesday that standing starts might be attempted at some point in the season. That didn’t stir quite as much controversy, but it created some buzz nonetheless. I have a definite opinion on the former and am still undecided on the latter.

There is no question where I stand on the double-file re-starts. They should stay – at all tracks. They added an element of suspense to the races. Of course, Dario Franchitti would be against it. He has stayed in the lead most of the time anyway. He doesn’t want anyone else to have a chance at taking that lead away. That’s understandable, and if I were in his shoes I’d probably feel the same way. But when a series is struggling for viewership and new fans, as cheesy as it sounds – you’ve got to do something to improve the show.

As a died-in-the-wool traditionalist, it pains me to say that – but for the long-term sake of the series, some changes have to be made. And that comes from a person who considers any change at all, a very bad thing.

In my opinion, the double-file re-starts did improve the show. They say that looking at the tape, there were several things that came close to happening last year on the re-starts at Indianapolis. Well you know what? They didn’t. JR Hildebrand came close to winning the Indianapolis 500 in his rookie year. Ryan Hunter-Reay came close to qualifying at Indianapolis last year. Guess what? Those things didn’t happen either, although RHR bought his way back in (but don’t get me started on that).

There were multiple rants and complaints before the season started last year. I know, because I was one of those complaining. When it became obvious to the drivers that Randy Bernard wasn’t backing down, they all did an excellent job of making sure they were all extremely careful. It worked. From my perspective, I thought they added a lot of intrigue and I was a fan by the end of the season-opening race at St. Petersburg. And for those that ask about the melee at St. Pete – remember that was the start, not a re-start. Starts have always been two-wide.

I like most of what I’ve seen and heard from Beaux Barfield in his first few weeks on the job, but the decision on the double-file re-starts is a head-scratcher. Instead of banning them completely, or banning them on all ovals – the decision was made to use single-file re-starts at Indianapolis, Texas and Fontana, while leaving the double-file re-starts in place for Milwaukee and Iowa. Talk about confusing. Longtime reader Steve K had an interesting take: he thought they should be used on ovals but not street/road courses. He brings up a good point by saying that it’s easy to get cars lined up two-wide on an oval, but near impossible on a road course. You’ve got to admit he’s on to something when you look at the side-by-side rows trying to squeeze through the final turn at Long Beach before hitting the long straightaway headed to the flag stand.

On Monday night’s Trackside, Curt Cavin was almost certain that double-file re-starts would be back, possibly with the exception of Indianapolis. He thought they would return there but said he wouldn’t be surprised if they rescinded them there either. Well, I’ll bet rescinding them at three of five ovals surprised him.

I know Beaux Barfield promised to listen to the drivers more than his predecessor did, but this was almost caving into them. These are supposed to be the best drivers in the world. If that’s the case, surely they can handle a re-start with a car next to them. I know, I know – that’s easy for me to say because I’m not a driver. No, but I watched every re-start of every race last year and what I saw was a group of professionals doing what it takes to avoid contact. Are they no longer capable of doing that?

It just irks me that what turned out to be a great idea that improved the racing last year, was abandoned at three very visible tracks simply because the drivers didn’t like dealing with them. What will be next – doing away with racing in rain on road courses because it forces the drivers to be more careful?

The second part of this rant involves the standing starts that might happen on road courses at some point this summer. When I first heard it on Tuesday I was immediately against the idea – mainly due to my severe hatred of change. After reflecting on it for a couple of days however, I am surprisingly in favor of them. Sometimes, the standing start provides the only bit of drama in a Formula One race. God knows that Belle Isle will need some spicing up, although they probably won’t be using the standing starts by then.

As mentioned earlier, tracks like Long Beach, Barber, São Paulo, Belle Isle etc all feature very slow turns before heading to the starting line. As the first two to three rows get through the last turn to a quick sprint to take the green flag, the rest of the field is slowly snaking through the last turn. By the time even the middle of the pack gets on to the main straight – the leaders are gone. It would make things much more eventful to watch a Tomas Scheckter or Tony Kanaan pass as many cars as possible from the back of the field before reaching the first turn.

It throws a wild card into the mix. A poor qualifying effort can be made up in a few hundred feet with an outstanding start from sitting dead still. With brand new cars that no one has ever raced, new engines that have the potential to actually fail and also standing starts – fans can expect the unexpected this season. It’s a shame double-file re-starts have been taken out of the equation at three tracks this season.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “What’s Up With Starts & Re-Starts In 2012?”

  1. My vote? Go to standing starts as early as possible and keep double-file re-starts. The two most important factors are driver safety & excitement for fans. I am sure Rubens Barrichello would love standing starts…

  2. Here is my thought on the standing starts, have them, at some tracks. Now you have added another level of diversity to the skill set the drivers must master.

    The league sets a percentage of the track designated at standing starts, say 40%. Then before the season the full time drivers get to cast their vote for which tracks they will be doing standing starts on.

  3. I generally like double-file restarts, but we didn’t have them at Indy for about a century before this, so I think we’ll manage without them.

    For standing starts, I like the rolling start, but I still contend adding it at an event that’s traditionally been a bit of a sleeper could give it a nice little bump. Try it at one race, and see how it goes from there.

  4. After perusing the options in the poll, I don’t find one that fits my sentiments. As to double file re-starts, they are about the only excitement to be had at places like Barber and “Snorenoma.” Yes, there are street circuits where it is probably awfully tight (Baltimore). And, even though they essentially turned the field loose between turns 3 and 4 at Indianapolis, there was often near chaos heading into turn 1, in spite of having the 5/8 of a mile straightaway to get themselves sorted out. Considering that Indy starts with rows of 3, 2 shouldn’t pose a problem.

    Like you, I think it is a dangerous precedent to start allowing the drivers to dictate what the rules are going to be, whether its standing starts (just another F-1 affectation we can live without,) or double wide re-starts. As our mutual “hero” A. J. would say, “This isn’t badminton, it’s AUTO RACING.”

    Look, I GET that after the carnage in Vegas, everyone is rightfully a little “gun shy.” And I suppose in a place like Baltimore (and maybe Long Beach) standing starts offer some potential for shuffling the starting grid right out of the gate. However, if we start “tweaking” the rules for individual venues, aren’t we heading perilously close to the “local rules” that are a part of NASCAR?

    As we get deeper into testing (particularly the test at Texas,) we’re going to find out just how the DW12 handles in tight oval track racing. Isn’t it just a bit premature to be worrying about these things until we have a clue how stable these cars are going to be at oval track speeds?

    At this point, when the series is attendance and ratings “challenged,” shouldn’t the focus be on making the fans happy and giving them the best SHOW?

  5. I heard NBCSports is going to have another new weekly show. It’s called “Beaux Knows Rules.” They’re giving Barfield a half-hour slot to announce and explain exactly what type of qualifying will be used and the rules of competition that will be followed in each specific race. They’re hoping they don’t have to expand to an hour.

    Dario’s been trying to get rid of double-wides since they started. Bernard seemed committed to keeping them. I think maybe SCSkip is right–the concern with safety may have tipped the scales in Dario’s direction.

  6. I am generally against standing starts on road courses. Primarily because I hate the fact it surrenders one of the brand differentiators relative to F1 – it’s a step towards being painted in the corner as F1 Lights as ChampCar was in it’s last days.
    But my primary concern is that these guys have either never done this type of start before or it has been years since they have done them. Unlike double file restarts that simply replay the opening lap with every restart, standing starts haven’t been done in any form of IndyCar since the Long Beach Finale. Do we know for sure that the new car is capable of them?
    My fear is that they will have their first standing start and like the Initial GP2 race at Imola in 05′ half the field will break clutches or halfshafts. The DW12 would be the heaviest of all OW cars doing a standing start.
    Worse yet we’ll have multiple stalls or contact from inexperience near the front creating a track blockage issue and we’ll get a pile up of epic proportions with the highlight replay a you tube laughing stock.
    You always have to ask the question “What’s the worst that could happen” then practice and prepare for it not to. I hope they do a dedicate a practice session or two to a couple of dry runs before they go live…

    • billytheskink Says:

      You took the words right out of my mouth with the first paragraph and you make a great argument in your next two.

      I don’t want to see standing starts for the same reasons I don’t want to see airboxes, they exacerbate the casual fan’s confusion between IndyCar and Formula 1.
      I had enough trouble getting folks to understand that I wasn’t going to see Formula 1 at the Grand Prix of Houston in the late 1990s, and that race featured neither airboxes nor standing starts.

  7. I just read Pippa Mann’s comments on this subject. (Pippa Mann.com under “Fan Club.”) Interesting to hear the argument from the driver’s viewpoint and maybe she tempered my original reaction a bit.

    But I still think there’s something to be said for keeping it simple and understandable instead of having a multitude of different rules and regulations for each track.

  8. Seriously, third tier NASCAR drivers do double file restarts every week but the “greatest drivers in the world” are apparently unable to do so. Giving into drivers like Dario one time, and what’s next? Not racing at Texas?

    • Jack The Root Says:

      What’s next? Not racing at Texas?

      Yep. With the owners and drivers now dictating what they want and the TPTB now cowing down to them, Texas is a goner ASAP.

      Double-file restarts were UNIVERSELY supported by THE FANS of the ICS. In huge numbers. They weren’t always perfectly executed, but they added something to the show. With better implementation from the series and better execution/experience from the drivers, it would work just fine anywhere. And so what does the IC Series do? Takes them away for 2012 at all but a few tracks. Brilliant thinking! Just the kind of planning that has made our sport so damn popular in the USA lately.

      I think what we need as a series is to continue to make it as confusing as possible for the general public. Lets use standing starts, rolling starts, single-file restarts, double-file restarts and not know from week-to-week which we are using. And by all means, lets make the car numbers so small on the rear wing that nobody can read them. Because we all know, IDing a helmet at 230 MPH at Indy is very easy to do. The hell with actually being able to see a car number. We don’t want things to be easy for our fans.

      BTW, we don’t have the “World’s Greatest Drivers”. They have proven that without a shadow of a doubt. To continue to use that moniker is just flat embarrassing at this point.

  9. I think whatever starts are selected, the drivers should adopt the approach that if they are as good as they claim to be, they should be able to handle any of the formats.

    Standing Starts: My chief concern with standing-starts would be the equipment durability. Hate to see three or four gearboxes take a dump at the green or in the first few laps because of it.

    Single- vs. double-file Restarts: I guess I prefer single-file, (agree w Zachary totally). My issues w any restart is WHEN they drop the green flag. In the past, they’re thrown waaaay too early. No ‘acceleration zones’ should be needed.

    I’d rather have a green appx when the leader hits the S/F line. A back-of-the-pack penalty to any trailing car who moves their front tires beyond the rear tires of the car in front of them, prior to the display of the green.

    By all means, have the ‘stones’ to call out anyone who jumps the start, throw the yellow and line em up again. They’ll get the picture quickly once a few penalties have been assessed.

  10. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    I’m certain that driver input had something to do with it, but I’m guessing the decision to go single-file at Texas and Fontana was not done in deference to them. If the series brass wants to cut down on pack racing at the big ovals, why restart the race side-by-side? String the field out single-file, we’ll get more draft-and-pass on the restarts and we might just separate the field a little bit.

    As for standing starts, I recall hearing all of the same concerns before Champ Car’s first standing start. It was the only time I recall that the field made it through turn 1 at Portland with no contact.

  11. Savage Henry Says:

    I think in the long run they are going to need to standardize the rules, but it doesn’t bother me if 2012 ends up being a year of experimentation for the series. There are new cars and new engines they are going to be breaking in, and aero kits don’t come until next year. If they want to mix it up with qualifying sprint races, a mix of single and double-file restarts, and flying and standing starts, I say go for it an see what works. I also expect to see a lot of polling and focus groups with the fans to see what’s popular and what isn’t.

    This will add some interest in the summer doldrums of back-to-back road and street races at boring venues.

    Ultimately they need to get their act together with starts and restarts. There were an amazing number of gawdawful starts and restarts last year, some because of the track layout (very slow corners before the start/finish straight) and some because of driver antics. On TV it was an embarassment to see the first two rows flash by and then have to wait 3 seconds until the rest of the field came by. Find what works and then fix it. A good portion of the action in a race comes on starts and restarts, if you screw those up you risk being left with a very boring product.

  12. I am in favor of standing starts on the non-ovals. I really like a series that required to excel at all types of four wheel racing.
    Since the three types of racing are ovals, street/road circuits and straight (drag racing), the standing starts would add the third discipline to INDYCAR. Standing starts would be one more factor that could shake up the championship race and we would be even more likely to finish with a champion who demonstrates the greatest proficiency at the greatest variety of four wheel driving skills.

  13. A bit behind on my RSS feeds. Thanks for the shout out George.

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