IndyCar Restarts: A "50-50" Proposition
Two rounds into the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season, the jury has delivered a split verdict on INDYCAR's newly implemented double-file restarts.
Fans seem to have enjoyed the wheel-banging action, rising to their feet for every restart in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and tuning in on television for INDYCAR's best TV rating for a race other than the Indianapolis 500 in more than three years.
On the other hand, even after modifications for last weekend's event at Barber Motorsport Park, some competitors have grumbled about the restart procedures and team owners can't be especially happy about the bills they are paying for wrecked cars.
But looking back at St. Petersburg and Barber, the double-wide restarts have been mostly positive for the series. Both races featured first-lap accidents, but they occurred on the actual start of the events, not a restart. Some drivers have taken advantage, while others have fallen asleep at the wheel and fallen victim.
INDYCAR chief steward Brian Barnhart convened a driver's meeting at Barber that, in a series first, was opened up to the media. In the meeting, Barnhart revealed that the drivers would be allowed to start accelerating earlier when approaching a restart (325 yards instead of 200 at St. Pete) and that the restart speed would be increased.
Reaction to the changes from the drivers was generally upbeat.
"We probably got a better exchange of ideas and information, and a better understanding of what the needs are from both points of view than we ever have," said 2008 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who was crashed out during the chaotic race start at St. Petersburg. "But the drivers need to actually listen to the changes.
"The problem is, when the green flag drops, we all get a bit stupid."
"It's a learning process for everyone involved," Barnhart said. "We've made a pretty radical change from how things have been done for over a decade. They're going to have to adapt and improvise."
Both races were marred by a series of full-course cautions following accidents on restarts, lending credibility to the old adage "cautions breed cautions." But some drivers were keeping all four wheels on their cars and made considerable progress through the field as a result of their aggression and the misfortune of others.
At Barber, Tony Kanaan gained 10 places on the race start and the first restart after a poor qualifying performance left the Brazilian starting from the back of the 26-car field.
"We stayed out of trouble, and especially nowadays with the double-file restarts, that's what you've got to do," Kanaan said. "For the fans and the racing, the restarts looked more exciting.
"I still believe we need to try to take care of each other a little more. I mean, every restart had a crash, so it's not a coincidence. But every one had a lot of passing too, so it's a trade there. It's 50-50 right now."
Championship leader Will Power has run at the front of the field in both races, leading at Barber from start to finish. He was therefore not involved in the fracas breaking out behind him, but he's still not a fan of the new restarts.
"Talking to the majority of the drivers, we don't like it because of the encounters it causes, but at the end of the day we can make it work by giving each other respect and room," Power said. "Maybe if we go a little earlier it will spread things out. The more you spread them out, the safer it is."
One thing everyone is in agreement about: double-file restarts could produce mass destruction at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, thanks to the long Shoreline Drive straight leading into a very tight first-gear first corner.
Rumors persist that INDYCAR officials will shelve the two-wide restarts this weekend because of the layout of the first turn on the Long Beach street course.
"The restarts are my biggest worry at that track, into Turn 1," Power said. "It's going to be worse than St. Pete."
"I agree with that," added Dixon. "I think the style of the Barber track lends itself to a cleaner style. I think Long Beach is going to be a different story."