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Ingram: Why Not Race In The Wet at Glen?

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 15 2011

NASCAR officials wait out the rain on pit road at Watkins Glen on Sunday. Should rain tires be given a chance in Cup? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:

I wish NASCAR’s Sprint Cup would start racing in the rain at Watkins Glen. While the disastrous IndyCar finish in New Hampshire confirmed the obvious that it’s impossible to race in the rain on an oval, it can be done by the Sprint Cup competitors at places like the Glen.

The Sprint Cup could come one step closer to the prospect of its champion representing the best drivers in the world if officials were not so shy about racing in conditions considered part of the sport by every road racing sanctioning body.

Competing in the rain is considered one of motor racing’s greatest challenges. If nothing else, NASCAR officials could start races on a damp track instead of waiting for it to dry. If drivers have Goodyear rain tires on, they can negotiate damp or wet conditions without constant cautions for drivers who are spinning off.

At present, it’s a two-part problem. Goodyear doesn’t have rain tires available for the Sprint Cup cars. Once upon a time, Racing Eagles with treads for rain were built and stored near the Glen in case a decision was made to race in the rain. But after the tires aged and became too hard, NASCAR officials elected not to replace them.

There are modern era precedents for racing in the rain on road courses by NASCAR. During

The Nationwide Series ran part of a race in the rain at Montreal three years ago. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

the exhibition weekend at the Suzuka circuit in Japan in 1997, steady rain forced a qualifying session in the wet on Goodyear rain tires. Cup teams used the same single blade wipers that were required to be on cars at the Glen at that time in case of rain and the rear brake light. There may have been some spinning, but nothing disastrous happened.

One of the more exciting Nationwide Series events in recent memory took place in the rain on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in 2008, a race that was red-flagged due to the track’s inability to handle the steady downpour and constant hydroplaning by the cars, reason enough not to continue.

Drivers, even the road racing veterans, often despise racing in the rain, due to the visibility problems. But therein lies the challenge in addition to managing the relatively grip-less conditions. In Montreal, it couldn’t have been too horrific, because drivers averaged about 15 mph per lap below the pace in the dry; they raced in the rain at an average lap speed of 75 mph compared to 90.

At Watkins Glen on Sunday, the rain was never heavy and the track’s surface was not overwhelmed with water. Perfect conditions for racing on rain tires. Also, the other main problem – visibility – would not have been a severe problem. Finally, everybody and their pet dog knew it was going to rain on Sunday. With a provision in the books for racing in the rain – including a rear brake light and a windshield wiper as well as Goodyear rain tires –the teams could have been amply prepared.

Now, yawn, it’s back to Monday morning racing at the Glen.

In New Hampshire, the calls for the head of Brian Barnhart as the race director for the IZOD IndyCar Series reached a fever pitch after his decision to re-start the race despite a

A wreck occurs on the final restart at New Hampshire. In the foreground, it appears Oriol Servia in blue car has lead and Ryan Hunter-Reay in yellow car is second. However, officials ruled the wreck aborted the restart and gave the race victory to Hunter-Reay. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

misty drizzle at the Magic Mile that left the surface too damp for racing.

Barnhart’s role as competition director in the IZOD series is multi-faceted and his skills are generally put to good use. But perhaps it is time to move one of his tasks as the race director elsewhere.

At New Hampshire, the blame for the decision to re-start on a wet track was placed on “race control” by Barnhart, where he is the man in charge of a team of three, including Tony Cotman and Al Unser, Jr. But insiders report that Barnhardt’s leadership style helps create the sort of chaos that leads to poor communication among other members of the race control team, including those judging track conditions from the pit road and elsewhere. Evidently, it was poor communication that led to the final re-start fiasco – despite warnings from team owners and drivers.

In Canada, it appeared Barnhart was not very much in charge during the contact controversies in Toronto and Edmonton. There have been other notable disasters, including the blown call against Helio Castroneves in Edmonton last year.

It would not necessarily be a demotion for Barnhart to move to another role as part of a team at race control for IndyCar races. In the Sprint Cup, David Hoots has long been the race director while working with a team of NASCAR officials that includes the series president, Mike Helton, its vice president, Robin Pemberton, and the series director, John Darby.

Indy car racing hasn’t had a strong character in charge on race days since Wally Dallenbach Sr. was the chief stewart at CART. He proved that the right man – one who has time to spend with drivers on a race weekend instead of constantly dealing with other duties – can command the respect of the drivers in a way that creates a level playing field for drivers and teams to prove who’s the best.

The decision to revert the scoring to prior to the final, botched re-start is rule-making on the fly, backyard games style. The decision to re-score the New Hampshire race, where Oriol Servia was the actual winner only to be told he wasn’t, brings the IZOD championship into dispute for the second time this year. The first occasion occurred in Toronto. That’s where Dario Franchitti was allowed to knock Will Power out of the lead and points contention with a maneuver that was dubious at best and certainly not one of championship calibre.

Quote of the Week: “After today I don’t know why we even have a rule book. We don’t. When has that ever happened in Indy car racing? Never. Not in my 10 years.” – Scott Dixon, who finished third in the re-shuffled finishing order for the IndyCar race in New Hampshire.

Source: http://espn.go.com/racing/indycar/story/_/id/6861735/indycar-madness-new-hampshire-motor-speedway.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 15 2011
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Charles says:

    Racing is not just about drivers its about fans!! I do or will not pay a ticket to see a race in the rain!

    I mean I can see enough excitement on our highways when it rains and the action is dangerous and more wild passes, than have to pay for it!

  • Ed Smith says:

    The decision to run in the rain should not be about drivers, tires, visability, etc. It should be about the fan experience at the event. I’m not so sure fans would want to sit in the rain, or go to the midway, etc in the rain! I believe NASCAR did a fan poll about this issue a year or two ago, and the results were overwhelmingly against sitting in the rain to watch a race.

  • Andy D says:

    I was pulling for Will Power to get a few points closer to Dario. Obviously, Indycar management felt the same because they rolled back the results so that Power wouldn’t fall back after his car was knocked out. I think it would be 3 in a row if Dario gets another championship. NASCAR would be the 1st to tell you that’s detrimental to fan interest. With Indycar struggling to get out of a hole, they can’t afford to lose anyone. IMO, once restarted, they should have run the last five laps. Under caution if necessary.

    Very disappointed that after all these years we can’t see Sprint Cup run in the rain. These drivers are making a huge amount of money, it’s time to show that their driving talent matches their bank account.