Tweaking The 2015 IndyCar Rulebook
Revisions to the 2015 Verizon IndyCar rule book were released yesterday. My reaction to most of it was a leftover turkey-sandwich induced yawn. As Derrick Walker said, most of the changes were simply tidying up a few things and clarifying some definitions. There were slight changes to the manufacturer’s championship, a few things about test dates and a new way to determine pit placement at races. None of these things were really eyebrow-raising – even in the month of December.
There were a couple of things, however, that I did think were noteworthy. One I was completely in favor of, while the other one sort of left me cold. I guess 50-50 isn’t too bad of an average. The change I am in favor of, involves standing starts – there won’t be any in 2015.
Yes, the standing starts added a wild-card variable of the unexpected to a race – but at what price? Who can forget seeing Sebastian Saavedra sitting helplessly in his stalled car while sitting on the pole for the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis? We all held our collective breath for a few seconds hoping against hope that the field could get past him, but then his car exploded into a ball of carbon fiber shards. It was excitement, but not the kind of excitement I’m looking for in a race. Unfortunately, that was what got the race on SportsCenter.
In my book, the risk-reward for standing starts was not worth it. Although Saavedra got the pole through strange circumstances, he earned it nonetheless (and this is coming from a decided non-Saavedra fan). Here was a young driver with his first big chance staring him in the face. Maybe he choked, or the launch-control software malfunctioned. Whatever the case, he was lucky to have escaped unscathed even though his race car was destroyed. A hefty spare-parts bill from Dallara was pretty much all KVSH Racing had to show for Saavedra’s pole position.
There were other examples of carnage in the few races that utilized standing starts since they were first introduced in 2013. There were also aborted starts that left fans and drivers deflated after being on edge for what might happen. These generally gave the impression that drivers were either incapable of performing the starts or that the sanctioning body couldn’t really manage them. Either way, the perception of IndyCar suffered another black eye in the court of public opinion.
When the standing starts did come off without a hitch, they pretty much provided the same level of excitement as a rolling start. When that happened, I wondered why they were taking the chance in the first place. I will come off as the stodgy old fogey here, but one tradition that has set auto racing in this country apart from the rest of the world is the flying start. The argument of “that’s the way they do it in Europe” has never carried a lot of weight with me when it comes to change, especially when there is no other clear reason to change something. Standing starts fall into that category.
They were unique and I’m glad to say that I witnessed one in person, as I was sitting in the Tower Terrace at Indianapolis when Saavedra got punted. But the novelty has completely worn off and they have become a very costly experiment. Derrick Walker left the door open on the possibility that they could return at some point in the future, but they are definitely gone for 2015. Quite frankly, I hope they never come back.
I’m not so bullish on the other change that was announced yesterday. I was never keen on the idea of some races on the schedule paying more points than others. Last year, the three five-hundred mile races (Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana) paid double-points. I wasn’t big on this, but it did sort of recognize the Triple Crown that had lasted only one year with sponsorship from Fuzzy’s in 2013; as a cash-paying bonus and a beautiful trophy. The cash and trophy went away, so they decided to pay double points to these three ovals to make up for the fact that there were so few ovals on the schedule.
I always liked the fact that all races paid the same. As big as the Indianapolis 500 is, it still paid the same as Milwaukee, Barber and Iowa. Although Indianapolis obviously had the prestige and history, I liked that the promoter at Mid-Ohio or St. Petersburg could claim that their races counted towards the championship just as much as the Indianapolis 500. Last year, they couldn’t do that. Apparently, they can’t next year either.
As big a fan as I am of the Indianapolis 500, it strikes me as gimmicky that it should count more than any other race. No game in the NFL counts as much as any other games. Certainly, some games are considered bigger than others. Last week’s game featuring the Packers and the Patriots was a huge game and was billed as a possible Super Bowl preview. The Packer’s game next Monday Night against the 5-7 Falcons will not get near as much attention, but it counts just the same as all sixteen games in their regular season.
Is the Indianapolis 500 not big enough? Does it really need the hype of double-points and a convoluted points-system for qualifying? As they pointed out on Trackside last night, Ryan Hunter-Reay probably has no idea how many points he came away with last May – but it is a win that will define him forever, even if it paid no points at all.
As opposed as I was to double-points for the three five-hundred mile races this past year, I’m even less enthusiastic for the plans for 2015. The only two races that will pay double-points will be again at Indianapolis and at Sonoma. Sonoma? Please.
The championship will wrap up next season at Sonoma, which is usually not the most riveting race – and that’s being very kind. I thought the fact that the championship would be decided there was enough to spice it up and make it interesting for viewers at home. Apparently not. Mark Miles & Company seem to think that the championship needs to be gimmicked up.
Yes, I realize that the final race of 2014 paid double-points, but I thought that was because it was a five-hundred mile race. Why does where the race falls on the schedule dictate that it must pay double, since it’s the last race of the season?
IndyCar has been very fortunate that their points races have been so tight that the championship goes down to the last race more times than not. In fact, the last time a champion was crowned before the last race of the season was in 2004, when Tony Kanaan clinched in the penultimate race at Fontana.
Proponents of double-points will point out that had Fontana not paid double-points last year, then Will Power would have already clinched the week before at Sonoma. Well, sometimes that happens. Where is it written that a series championship must be decided in the final race? Must the structure continue to be manipulated to get the results they think we all want?
I always thought that the system in place through the 2013 season had worked pretty well. It delivered a non-contrived, non-manipulated championship every year. We all pretty well understood the structure. There were two points for leading the most laps and one point for winning the pole. There were no bonus points for leading a lap and the Indianapolis 500 paid the same points as Iowa.
In all actuality, I thought the system that CART used was the best. First place paid twenty points, second was sixteen, third was fourteen and so forth. After twelfth place, there were no points awarded. Zero. If you’re finishing thirteenth in a twenty-two car field, do you really deserve to come away with points? I never liked the idea of starting the car and earning points.
For some strange reason, the powers-that-be have not asked me my opinion on the point structure. If they ever did, I would recommend that they keep it simple and adopt the old CART system from the nineties. If they said no to that, I would say to go with what they had prior to 2014. But by all means, do away with the cheap and cheesy double-points idea.