Indy Drivers Say Restarts Could Be Disastrous
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Indianapolis – Here’s a scene that could very well play out in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500:
The cars line up for a double-file restart with five laps to go in a very competitive race. Pole-winner Alex Tagliani is on the inside at the front, with two-time 500 winner and defending champion Dario Franchitti alongside and the rest of the field breathing down their necks.
As the green flag waves, the leaders zoom toward Turn 1 at 220 mph and Franchitti has to make an instant decision to stay on the outside and take the chance of hitting the loose rubber – or marbles, as they are known – in the outside groove and winding up in the concrete wall or backing off and following Tagliani through the turn and likely losing the race.
“You come down to a restart with five (laps) to go, you don’t want to be on the outside because of the marbles,’’ Franchitti said Thursday. “I don’t care how you are, you get out on the marbles and you’re going to be in trouble.’’
Tagliani had an even stronger reaction.
“I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I tell you this: I would not want to be responsible for an incident that injures people in the grandstands because there’s wheel-
banging and cars fly up into the fence and there are parts that are injuring people. That’s the one thing.
“The second thing is us. We’re not dumb. We know that when wheels touch in our series bad things happen. Cars flip on the street course when wheels touch. Who wants to have wheels touching at 220 miles per hour? Nobody!
“So you’re creating this particular start that doesn’t work on (a) street course and all of a sudden you’re applying it at the Indianapolis 500. It’s ridiculous.’’
The double-file restart, which has created havoc at times and great excitement at others in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series since it was introduced in June of 2009, was adopted by the IZOD IndyCar Series this season.
That first four IndyCar races this season have been on road or street circuits and the restarts have produced a series of crashes and some hard feelings.
While most of the drivers say double-file restarts on the other ovals will likely be just fine, Indy’s narrow 2.5-mile oval is a different animal.
“I don’t think that this track is suited to it at all because of marbles and the narrowness of the line and some various other things,’’ Franchitti said. “For 99 years, it’s been
single-file restarts here. To show up at the Centennial with double-file, I don’t agree with that.
“Inside is definitely the place. I think, here, if you’re outside with any amount of laps (run) on the track, it’s going to be a lottery.’’
Veteran Tony Kanaan said he understands why IndyCar wants to use the double-file restarts in its most important and prestigious event, even if he doesn’t agree with the decision.
“I think it’s a bigger potential for more disaster than anything,’’ Kanaan noted. “But we have to accept (it) because the series sets the rules, not us. We’re paid to drive race cars and not to crash them, but it’s making that very difficult.
“They want to stick with the rule. They keep saying the fans love it so, hopefully, we’ll have more than six cars finishing the race.’’
Franchitti, one of the elder statesmen in the series, said he has talked to both Randy Bernard, IndyCar’s CEO, and competition president Brian Barnhart about his concerns, apparently to no avail.
“I think I’ve made my position, and the position of the majority of drivers I’ve spoken to, very clear,’’ Franchitti said.
But he has proposed a change for Sunday that could help avoid disaster on the restarts.
“You know, I think it’s important that we have restarts on the front straight and not in Turn 3,’’ Franchitti said. “That’s something we’re all in agreement with. The restart zone
needs to be right about the pit entry so the fans on the front straight can see that restart and everybody can race for position on the straightaway.’’
Barnhart said he is very aware of the concerns of the drivers but noted that how it works is up to them.
“(The drivers’) concerns are valid because it’s their butts on the line out there and it’s the Indy 500 and they want to do everything they can to be in position to win,’’ he said. “When you are making efforts to do the best you can for everybody, there is going to be a scenario that just didn’t work out well for someone.
“I’ve had several conversations with a lot of the drivers about what the process for restarts is going to be like and there’s a lot of varied opinions on where it should be, how fast it should be, what the spacing should be. Most of the responses to what we’ve proposed has been ‘That all makes sense.’ But we really don’t know until you put it into practice and try it for the first time.’’
Barnhart added, “While this is a new process and has its challenges, no matter what we do as a series and what we do in terms of laying out the procedure, ultimately it’s in their hands.’’
That answer would not please Tagliani, who is sure to raise questions about the restarts at Friday’s scheduled drivers’ meeting.
“I mean, it’s going to create a lot of yellow flags, so there’s going to be a lot of time off during the race,’’ Tagliani said. “Terrible broadcast. A lot of wrecks. Who wants to see wrecks at Indy and who wants to be in one? Why? I’m trying to understand.
“They can’t tell me it’s because of the (TV) viewers, because it’s known that as soon as there’s a yellow and it takes like 15 minutes to clean, the viewers change channels. How is that a positive for us? It’s a freaking race. If I want to clean something, I’m just going to clean my apartment.’’
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment