Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tweaking the Restart Procedure: A Middle Ground

Gnashing of teeth!  Wailing and lamentations!  Tearing of flesh!  IndyCar is changing its restart procedure!

IndyCar announced at Randy Bernard's "State of the Sport" address in January that they are switching to double-file restarts for 2011.  Initially, lapped cars were to restart mixed in wherever they might line up following pit stops.  Driver's were upset though, because on top of the added risk of restarting double-file, they could now be restarting next to one of the less reliable cars (either due to driver skill or car setup).  The latest change is that lapped cars will go to the back so lead-lap cars can fight it out.

The problem with this is that sometimes a good driver goes down a lap.  Maybe they ran over their airhose, or pitted just before a yellow flag, or spun but managed to avoid the wall.  It happens.  If they restart near the front, they can fight hard and get their lap back, and then hope for a quick yellow.  In fact, Jacques Villeneuve went two laps down in the 1995 Indy 500 and came back to win.  Certainly a driver in this position isn't the "unreliable" one that worries the other drivers.  But if you move them to the back, that chance all but goes away.  NASCAR faced this same problem when they banned racing back to the yellow flag.  Their answer was the lucky dog.  I don't think anyone really wants to see that in IndyCar, but it does solve the problem.

Let's set one thing aside right now.  I'm not going to deal with the question of "racing purity".  I'll take it as a given that double-file restarts are a great idea, and that all we're debating is how to implement them.  I happen to think that simply moving the "go" line much closer to start/finish (and then enforcing that line) would accomplish 80% of the goal, but fine, double-file restarts rock.  I get it.  So how can they be implemented without relying on the lucky dog?

How about this?  Let drivers one lap down maintain their place in the restart order and pit with the lead lap cars, but move any cars more than one lap down to the back of the field.  Let's face it - the drivers most likely to cause disaster on the restart aren't going to be one lap down.  They're going to be multiple laps down, and barely hanging on to the car.  The cars that are one lap down are likely running solid laps and keeping the car in the right direction.  This procedure also preserves some advantage for the leader who gets around lapped traffic efficiently.  It won't be as big an advantage, but it might prevent second place from restarting next to the leader.

So there you go - a compromise.  It can work.  This doesn't need to be all or nothing!

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