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