Firmer rules, accountability among changes needed

IndyCar commentary — By on August 29, 2011 10:21 am

Several times over the past couple of days, Randy Bernard has stated that he’ll be looking for feedback from the INDYCAR community on the changes that people want to see in officiating procedures going into next season. In the spirit of lending a helping hand, here’s my wish list for 2012. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section below.

Remove as much freedom for discretionary decision-making from the rule book as possible. Every legal document requires a certain number of out-clauses. But the current INDYCAR rule book is just one giant out-clause with very few hard and fast rules, and that’s no way to operate a professional sport. An effective rule book would have a base set of rules that are to be followed to the letter and a clause that allows for discretionary decision-making only where no established rules apply to a given situation. The current system makes the entire sport look like one man’s plaything, which is clearly not good for credibility.

– Further to this same theme, separate the roles of Chief Steward and President of Competition. This is so important. Right now, if a team has an issue with a decision made by the Chief Steward, the only person they can appeal to is the same person who made the decision in the first place, which immediately removes any shred of objectivity. Adding another level to the hierarchy gives the sport’s competitors a third party to hear complaints and offers a much-needed alternate perspective. (Ideally, to take this objectivity a step further, one of these roles would be filled by someone who isn’t currently involved in the INDYCAR organization.)

Consider changing the driver consultant on a race-by-race basis. This point came up in our podcast with Justin Wilson a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a very good one. This isn’t to say that Al Unser, Jr. isn’t doing a fine job in his role as driver consultant to the Race Control team. But bringing new faces into the fold would go a long way toward creating at least a perception of greater impartiality. Having a different driver for every race is likely impractical given the number of candidates available, but it should be relatively easy to assemble a group of a half-dozen or so people to rotate through.

Create a paper trail to establish accountability. Credit for the genesis of this thought goes to Marshall Pruett of In INDYCAR, all communication on pit lane and in Race Control is done by audio, which becomes untraceable as soon as the transmission ends. Other racing series, both past and present, have used text messaging or instant messaging as a way to ensure that communications can be recorded and referenced in the event that clarification is required. The only reason not to establish a system like this — which is faster, more reliable, and far more open — is if someone has something to hide.

– Finally, and this is a big one: get rid of that stupid blocking/defending rule. Contrary to the understanding held by some that the blocking rule is in place due to the parity in the current equipment, Tony Cotman told MFW last month that the rule is actually a safety measure and will likely remain for 2012. There are two major problems with this rule. The first is that very few observers of the sport understand it. No other form of motorsport on Earth uses a similar rule, open-wheel or otherwise, and the commonly held perception is that it’s akin to telling race car drivers how to do their jobs — or, rather, telling them not to do their jobs since it dictates for them how and where passing can take place. The second issue is that it doesn’t appear that such measures will be necessary given the other safety measures that will be in place next year, particularly the bumpers covering the rear wheels and the return of the fuel knob (which is also ostensibly in the name of safety and is also a travesty, in my opinion, but this isn’t the place for that discussion). Mandating various aspects of the sport in the name of safety is an important and noble endeavor, but there’s a fine line between keeping the drivers safe and preventing them from racing, and this rule falls too far on the latter side to the detriment to the on-track product. The European rule that allows one change of line but calls a second change a block would produce racing that viewers would be more familiar with and more excited to watch.

These changes would go a long way toward creating a fair, accountable, and raceable environment in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012. There are likely many other great ideas out there. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.