Move over — it’s just good manners

IndyCar commentary — By on May 3, 2010 11:09 pm
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(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)

Much ado has been made in recent days over the issue of whether lapped cars have a duty to make way for lead-lap cars that come up behind them.  Three specific incidents in the last two races have been of particular interest.

1.  At Long Beach, Alex Lloyd defended himself against going down a lap to Ryan Hunter-Reay and held him up in the process, causing RHR to lose around six seconds of his lead on Justin Wilson before he was finally able to squeak by.  At the next turn, Justin tried to get by Lloyd as well.  Alex reportedly didn’t see Justin come up behind him, and Justin had his front wing clipped as Alex cut across the racing line abruptly.

2.  At Kansas, Danica Patrick spent four laps driving against Helio Castroneves as though she was defending for position, despite being a lap down and repeatedly being shown the blue flag.

3.  After Kansas, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan publicly called out their competitors in stating that blocking in the Series is getting excessive.  Dario referred to a specific incident during that day’s race in which two slower cars were racing for position and preventing him from passing safely.

There have been many more incidents than this in recent events, and discussion as to whether something needs to be done becomes increasingly animated as time goes on.

But the thing I don’t understand is why this is even a discussion at all.

Racing etiquette has been understood to be a certain way for a long time.  Here’s a rough overview (and any racer will back me up on these points).

You race for position, and you race to keep your lap. Once you’re a lap down, you race cars that are on the same lap as you.  You’ve lost the right to battle those on the lead lap at that point; no one has anything to gain from having a driver in P14 trying to keep a driver in P2 behind him (see incident 1, above; this is why Alex Lloyd was at fault for the altercation he had with Justin Wilson, and Justin calling Alex out over it was completely warranted).

Therefore, if a car comes up behind you that’s on the lead lap and you’re not, you do everything in your power to get out of that car’s way as quickly and safely as possible. (See incident 2 re: Danica and Helio.  If you don’t do this on your own, you’ll be shown a blue flag to encourage you; once upon a time, if you ignored a blue flag for long enough, you’d be shown a black flag and incur a penalty, though I can’t recall the last time this happened and I’m told (but have yet to verify) that there’s no official IRL rule to back this up.  Someone please correct me if this isn’t the case.)

But: if a leader comes up behind a fight between cars on the same lap, the onus is still on the slower cars to move over, but there’s some concession to be made for the slower cars doing their best not to lose too much ground in a battle for position as they do everything they can to let the faster car by safely.  (See incident 3 and Dario’s comments specifically. To be honest, I think Dario is just frustrated with the overall situation, but he does need to be more forgiving when he’s trying to work his way through a battle for position.  So, while I agree with his overall point, I don’t completely agree with his stance on this specific issue.  Sorry, Dario.)

This stuff has been racing doctrine for as long as I’ve been following the sport.  The part that’s not clear is when these basic rules began being left by the wayside.

Perhaps the problem is that the newer generation of drivers isn’t being exposed to these common courtesies before they make it to the IZOD IndyCar Series.  Or maybe they are and the issues lies with the fact that these things haven’t been enforced in so long that drivers feel they can get away with ignoring them.  After all, you only get into trouble if you get caught, right?

But the drivers who rightly expect these rules of etiquette to be followed on the racetrack are beginning to speak up about the fact that current lackadaisical attitudes are affecting the quality of racing that we’re seeing.  It’s time for IndyCar to back these drivers up and take some tangible action.  Prompt blue flags followed by black flags and penalties (of more significance than a slap on the wrist, please) may be the only way to get everyone back in line.  I’m not generally one to advocate in favor of a police state, but in this case I feel more strongly about the fact that the drivers who understand how to operate fairly and courteously have the right to expect the same treatment from the other competitors around them.

However, on a related topic that’s been hotly discussed lately, I do not support the idea of moving backmarkers out of the way on restarts – and that means neither moving them to the back nor putting them in the outside lane.  The leaders who have managed to put lapped cars between themselves and the drivers behind them have earned the privilege of having that advantage.  Shoving the slower cars out of the way smacks of being an unfair drama-generating gimmick, and an upstanding sanctioning body has a duty to avoid those at all costs.  After all, as my fellow Planet-IRLer Paul stated on Twitter earlier this evening, “If lapped cars on restarts are the problem, perhaps a driver could pass the lapped car BEFORE the yellow.”  If proper etiquette is being followed, this becomes part of a skilled driver’s race strategy, which is the way it should be.

This simply comes down to ensuring that racing is executed justly.  If every aspect of a race is as fair as it possibly can be, then we can confidently state at the end of the day that the best driver and team have won.  And in racing, there’s no more important or greater victory.

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