Tweaking The 2015 IndyCar Rulebook

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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.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “Tweaking The 2015 IndyCar Rulebook”

  1. I dislike getting rid of standing starts. I am not saying safety is unimportant, but it’s getting a little ridiculous in Indycar that safety has become the main excuse not to do anything interesting. Race close on ovals? Not safe. Race in the rain? Not safe. Break the speed record at Indy? Not safe. Double file restarts? Not safe. Standing starts? Not safe. So… what exactly is safe? I suppose fuel saving at Sonoma is considered acceptably safe. I mean, if Indycar want’s to be 100% safe they need to buy a bunch of old NASCAR COT’s and chop the fenders off, then put the current 550-750hp engines in them, and I would bet $1000 no driver is ever injured again, though I do not believe anyone would be left watching either. Saying standing starts are dangerous is also a bit misleading since any type of start can be dangerous. Because this is racing and not table tennis. Tons of cars were crashed in rolling starts throughout the year as Graham Rahal no doubt is well aware. So I”m not sure I’d characterize it as safe vs. unsafe.

    As for double points, I liked them this year because they made ovals matter. Drivers this year who couldn’t finish in the top 5 on ovals could not win the title. I see the argument for Indy being a double points race, and it is similar to what WEC does with Le Mans. I’m fine with that. Sonoma as a double points race is a bit silly, because all that’s going to do is give the best fuel saver a ton of points, but it makes sense for the finale to be double points IF OTHER RACES are also double points. In otherwords if all three ovals are double points, it does make sense for Sonoma to be double points. I expected that to be the case, 4 double points races, and I’d have been on board with that. But, to only have Indy and Sonoma be double points? At that point either go back to the way things were, or just leave Indy as the only double points. The fact that the Triple Crown has gone from a 1 million dollar prize to double points to nothing is not a good sign.

    But Indycar doesn’t seem to care. Walker even admitted that fans loved the standing starts, but they still died. At this point Indycar seems to have given up being interesting, fan focused, or exciting. Ending the season at Sonoma or a Boston street course is exhibit A on that front. Killing standing starts is exhibit B, and what we’ve seen with double points counts as an example of just how little oval racing seems to matter to most of the people left running Indycar.

    • Mike Silver Says:

      I agree with all you say. Fan friendliness seems to be totally gone.. Standing starts do need work, mainly in the technology area.
      Sonoma double points is just plain dumb. I’m hoping this is one year someone runs away with it and clinches befor\e Sonoma. Not likely to happen, though

  2. TheF1Vole Says:

    The strangest thing about the Indy standing start which sent carbon fibre into the people at the side of the track on the pit lane, was that there was no temporary fence installed on the wall between the pit lane and the track.

    Go to Houston or Detroit and you’ll see fencing on both sides of the start finish straight. But there’s more – go to an old Youtube clip of the F1 Grand Prix of Indy and you’ll see a temporary fence on the start finish straight at indy.

    So where was that fence this year? In storage? I could understand it being absent for a rolling start, but not for a standing start.

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    George, I agree with you on the point system. i don’t believe everyone deserves points for just showing up. The CART system was the best one ever. The series can award owner points for all positions if they want. My main issue with qualifying points at Indy is they award too many. I hope that is adjusted this year.

  4. I thought that the standing starts were an interesting idea until the series started to use them. They were a fiasco and I don’t like seeing the races begin with a stalled car or two and a 15-lap yellow. As for the double points, well it didn’t get RHR the championship last year, but it did make the points race interesting.

  5. I was ok with the double points on the three oval races. With so few ovals it evened things up a bit. This years system does not impress me.

  6. The reason for all the gimmicks is that IndyCar considers the events to be “entertainment” not competetion. They no longer believe that the fans are interested in racing but are interested in being entertained. The disconnect is that they can’t conceive that there are fans who come to see a race – not points accumulated. To many of us the racing is the entertainment, not the geriatric rock band performing the pre-race concert.

  7. Chris Lukens Says:

    Is the new 2015 rulebook on line anywhere so that it can be read?

  8. I’m OK with the 500 paying double, but definitely not with Sonoma–a race whose winner could well be determined in Fast Six qualifying and not the race itself.

    If standing starts are so difficult, why do most drivers manage to leave the pits successfully 8 times or so in a 500 mile race? I’d bet that 99% of those departures are successful, which suggests that we should only see one stall every for every standing start in a race.

    And if we truly have the world’s most versatile drivers, why do we force them all to race a car that apparently isn’t as versatile as Euro junior formula cars? Apparently Xtrac and the OEMs have decided to bail on fixing problems with the drivetrain–that’s all I can conclude.

    If the series future remains dependent on street courses where the distance from the final turn (which almost always must be negotiated single-file even at pace speed) to the S/F line is insufficient to allow all cars to clear the turn and then a proper formation of the field, rolling starts are also too much of an advantage for those in the first few rows. It’s a dilemma with no easy solution.

  9. William Mackenzie Says:

    While I thought the idea that the three longest races of the season were weighted more in points made sense, I like this change. The three longest races were all speedways, and if you had a good speedway package you could argue that those teams were favored to perform better in the championship solely because of the # of points available. This new format of Indy and Sonoma being double points still highlights the two biggest races of the season (the 500 and finale), but also takes into account that teams without good superspeedway packages have a shot at double points as well on a road course.

  10. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    It’s all bollocks and will have next to no impact in my view.

    The only caveat to my opinion is Sonoma/Snornoma/Infiniyawn Raceway Double Points: If there is a dominant road course aerokit in ’15, THAT may factor heavily in determining the championship already and double Sonoma points would unduly influence the points just as the 500-miler speedway doubles did.

    Double points is utter hogwash in any event and nobody but 1 fan in 10,000 can tell you the final manufacturer’s points standings in the last three years. Nobody cares about that truly. Manufacturer’s care? When was the last time you saw their championship touted outside an Indycar racetrack or outside the season-end?

  11. billytheskink Says:

    A pair of curious decisions, I thought, as I believe neither are popular with most of Indycar’s biggest fans.

    I support the decision to abandon standing starts for a couple of reasons. One is that I personally find rolling starts to be more entertaining (though that does not mean that I find standing starts to be unentertaining). But more importantly than that, I think standing starts exacerbate the confusion many casual racing fans between Indycar and Formula 1. They are several things (airboxes, general appearance of the car, use of “Grand Prix”) that cause far more of that confusion, for sure, but standing starts do not help and I don’t mourn their disappearance.

    I don’t mind the idea of a points system in which some races are worth more than others, provided there is some reasonable justification for the differences (distance, difficulty). The old USAC system made sense in that way because points were awarded based on race distance. This was also true, to some extent, with what we saw last year, with double points only awarded for 500 mile races. This argument even extends to cover the Indy qualifying and old Iowa heat race points, I think, as Indycar asks more of its drivers and teams there than it does on a typical race weekend.
    The 2015 double points plan, however, comes across to me as arbitrary. The two races employing double points were likely chosen because they are considered more “important” than other races on the schedule. That is relatively true, but the actual competition at Indy and Sonoma is not especially different from that at Pocono or Barber. That’s where the 2015 double points plan doesn’t make sense to me.

  12. I love standing starts and am very bitter they are dropping them. Ed Carpenter is a crybaby. I look forward to him wrecking in the 500 again.

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