An Idea Worth Trying
This past Tuesday, the IZOD IndyCar Series unveiled their procedures regarding the three double-header weekends in the upcoming 2013 schedule. On Wednesday, a change in the points system was announced, but for our discussion purposes in this post – we’ll focus on the double headers. The point structure is a whole other discussion for another day.
As far as the double-headers go, there was as much celebration as there was hand-wringing on Twitter after the announcement. Some may be surprised to find me in the middle.
The three double-header weekends are at Belle Isle, Toronto and the new event in Houston. Since there are two separate races each of those weekends, there will be two qualifying sessions. For the race scheduled on Saturday, there will be a qualifying session on Friday. Then, before the Saturday race takes place, there will be a Saturday morning qualifying session for the second race scheduled for Sunday.
The Friday session will follow the familiar Firestone Fast Six format. However, the first round will be trimmed from fifteen minutes to ten. The biggest difference will be that the teams will be able to use as many tires from their weekend allotment as they want during qualifying. This is designed to minimize the chance of cars sitting in the pits for the first eight minutes of a ten-minute session, and encourage teams to utilize all the time in the session. The Saturday session will be a thirty-minute session involving all cars.
For the Toronto and Houston races, standing starts will be implemented for the first time ever in IndyCar competition for the Saturday races, while traditional flying (rolling) starts will be the rule in the Sunday events. Flying starts will be used at Belle Isle for both events, simply because the track layout is not conducive to standing starts. The series is also considering adding standing starts to a couple of other road/street course events.
Most know how much I detest change. I live by the simple rule that change is bad! Obviously, instituting standing starts into the series is a drastic change. But do I hate it? Not particularly. Am I ecstatic about it? Not really. I’m really very curious about the whole concept and that’s about it.
Most drivers have encountered standing starts at some point in their career throughout the various ladder series, but it’s been a while for the majority of them. Champ Car instituted some standing starts in their last year of existence during the 2007 season. Many Champ Car drivers expressed great levels of apprehension at the mere thought of standing starts. For the record, the first time standing starts were used was in Portland on June 10, 2007 and it came off without incident.
The Champ Car advocates and Formula One fans are all in favor of seeing standing starts take place in IndyCar. The old guard IRL devotees are shaking their collective heads. To them, this is just another step away from the “vision” of the mid-nineties that had an all-oval series catering to American drivers and mechanics that worked on their own engines.
For the most part, I’m ambivalent about the whole thing. I’m always opposed to changing something just for the sake of change. If there’s a reason for it, I can get on board. The iPhone 5? That’s change for the good. Windows Vista? Not so much. When it comes to standing starts on road/street courses, I could get on board with that if it actually improves the overall product.
If you’ve seen starts at Sonoma or Long Beach, you know that on flying starts, the first few rows are long gone before two-thirds of the field has even gone through the final turn before the line. If a normally fast car has had a bad qualifying run, they are likely to stay mired in the back on many road/street courses that offer few passing opportunities. With a standing start, a good driver stuck close to the back, can make a bold move on the start and be near the front before the first turn. Personally – from what we’ve seen from him on flying starts, I can’t wait to see what magic Tony Kanaan can work from a standing start.
Our friend Pressdog mentioned on Twitter that standing starts could be “a festival of carbon fiber”. Translated, that means a crash fest. But he later went on to explain that so long as drivers were uninjured, that is not always a bad thing. I agree. The series needs new fans. Unfortunately, you need to attract new fans anyway you can. If that means spectacular crashes that end up on SportsCenter – that can’t hurt when trying to get new fans to tune into next week’s race.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t advocate crashes. I am always insulted when I hear people say that the only reason anyone watches racing is to watch the crashes. Statements like that come from mindless idiots that know nothing about this sport and have probably never watched a complete race from start to finish. They only see what is shown on SportsCenter and base their judgments on a ninety-second highlight reel.
But the element of suspense from a standing start has its value. The standing start to a Formula One race offers drama that is hard to match. The sound of the engines revving together in unison and then unleashed at the exact same instant in close proximity to all other cars is hard to beat. It takes a healthy combination of skill and luck to make it through the first turn unscathed. That’s a wild-car variable that IndyCar is currently lacking. If Will Power or Dario Franchitti are starting from the front at Mid-Ohio with a flying start – chances are that they will be there when the checkered flag waves. The standing start makes things much more unpredictable – especially with the problematic hand clutch of the DW12.
Detractors are saying that this is a gimmick that the IZOD IndyCar Series doesn’t need. If they were racing before sellout crowds and skyrocketing television numbers, I would agree. But that’s not the case. The series needs help – lots of help. This is an idea that is worth trying. If it is a dismal failure, it should be tossed. But how will they know if they don’t try it? Trying it at just a few events is a good way to evaluate it. Who knows? It may be a hit.