A breakdown of IndyCar’s 2013 rule changes

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on January 24, 2013 7:17 am
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There have been a number of announcements in recent days involving new and updated rules and procedures for 2013. Let’s break some of them down and share some opinions.

In no particular order:

  • Four events will have their distances adjusted to discourage fuel mileage racing — St. Petersburg (+10 laps), Long Beach (-5 laps), Milwaukee (+25 laps) and Mid-Ohio (+5 laps). I think the intention behind this change is great. I also think it’s a tiny bit of fan pandering because it’s impossible to promise that it will make any difference — one unfortunate yellow flag and the change is completely undone. (Though maybe that point will applease the people complaining that they enjoy fuel strategy.) However, since the reduction in distance at Long Beach is minimal and fans at the other three events will benefit from longer run times, this one can be notched as a positive in my view.
  • Incentive have been added for drivers to perform well in the Iowa qualifying heat races, including points and third-heat berths for the two fastest drivers in the first two heats. To me, this one is a bullseye. There are always people at both extremes of any debate, but my recollection of fan reaction after the Iowa heat races debuted this year was that the majority of people liked the concept but felt it needed a few tweaks. Well, here those tweaks are. Gimmicky? Maybe a little, but it’s not completely without basis — this is largely designed after short-track racing procedures and recalls IndyCar’s origins in that realm, and drawing short-track fans back in is a noble goal. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this makes the show even better at a track that always puts on a great one regardless.
  • Firestone Fast Six tire use has been opened up. The old rule: “14.14.6.3.1. Only one set of tires may be used during a qualifications Segment.” The new rule: “14.14.6.5.1. Tire usage during a qualifying segment is only limited by an Entrant’s allocation.” This may be my favorite change. People have been screaming for it since about five minutes after the rule was changed to begin with. It’s nice to feel listened to. Along the same lines…
  • Segment 1 of the Firestone Fast Six has been shortened to 10 minutes per group. Because we all loved watching cars sit around on pit lane, right? (Huzzah!)
  • Qualifying order for race 2 of a double-header weekend will be set with a 30-minute open session. This seems to be the fairest approach. In an interview with SPEED’s Marshall Pruett, Beaux Barfield makes the point that any qualifying system that bases the grid for race 2 on an aspect of race 1 could unfairly bomb a driver in both races of a weekend. Plus, an open qualifying session makes me happy in that not only is it yet another skill and challenge that drivers and teams need to master, but it also has a bit of a retro throwback feel that I enjoy.
  • Standing starts have been confirmed for race 1 at Toronto and Houston and may be implemented elsewhere. See above for the reasons I’m happy with this change as well. More challenge equals good. I’m looking forward to being there when the first one of these goes down after the entire field has only had about one and a half hours of practice with the lighting system. (By the way, IndyCar has confirmed that the idea of running in the opposite direction for race 2 at some venues has been shelved, and that’s also a good thing. That was wacky.)
  • Instead of being based on the previous like event, pit stall selections will now be based on the qualifying results of the most recent event regardless of type (i.e., Pocono qualifying results will apply at Toronto). This one I’m on the fence about. The old way rewarded teams who tend to excel only at certain types of tracks. (Ed Carpenter Racing comes to mind immediately.) The new way rewards consistent performance — but it may also mean that the same drivers and teams reap the benefits time and again, which as I recall was the reason for changing the rule in the first place. This will be worth monitoring as the season progresses.
  • Teams can now opt to start a race with a less-than-full tank of fuel if they wish. Hooray for more strategy! Though I can already see myself staring at T&S at some point this season thinking, ‘Why is this person so fast out of the gate? Oh, he’s pitting on lap 15. Right.’ But I can also already hear the post-race interview about how a team made a great call and starting short on fuel was the key to winning the race, and any change that creates the potential for a compelling story like that deserves top marks.
  • “8.3.6. If a Car causes two Red Conditions in one or more segments or otherwise interferes with qualifications as determined by the Race Director, all segment times shall be voided, and the Car shall not be permitted to participate in the remainder of qualifying.” This move is purportedly “to further emphasize on-track sportsmanship.” That’s great. But I have a bit of trouble with the word “inteferes” as it lacks definition here. Nine times out of ten this call will be crystal clear. But for that one time out of ten when it’s not and the argument is heated and the decision needs to be made in a split second so that qualifying doesn’t get held up, I wish this was better outlined and felt less like a judgment call. (Oh, and although it’s possible to read the text “all segment times” as meaning a driver would drop to the bottom of the grid no matter how far he or she had progressed, later rules stipulate that only the times in the segment in question are voided and the car does not advance from that segment — so a driver who turns into a Blocky McBlockPants in segment 2 gets to keep his/her segment 1 times. It’s not the most clearly worded rule ever. But kudos to Barfield for giving himself an explicit way to do something about a persistent problem.)
  • The points system has been tweaked, and any driver who leads at least one lap in a race will receive one bonus point. Positions 19 to 25 will also have their points allotments adjusted. Think back on the number of times the championship has come down to a scant handful of points in recent years and it will quickly become obvious how much of an impact the first change could have. I’m leaning toward liking it, although tentatively — I think it’s great to reward performance and consistency, but I also didn’t really feel like the old system was broken per se (again, thinking back to the end game in recent years). I think I’ll watch and wait on this one. What I like a lot are the changes at the rear of the field. This should have the backmarkers fighting a little harder to earn their Leaders Circle berths — running in circles won’t cut it anymore, and that’s a positive development for the fans watching at home.
  • One major element that won’t change: “15.6.1. Any Unapproved Engine Change Out, except those caused by Engine failure in a Race, will result in a 10-place grid penalty.” And, to make matters worse, the engine life spec has been increased to 2,000 miles, potentially making this rule more likely to see use. This is the one announcement that really has me scratching my head. To leave a rule in place and untouched that was universally panned seems to me to be a massive oversight. In the release, Will Phillips was quoted as saying: “After careful consideration and heavy debate, we believe our best option was to continue with the 10-spot grid penalty. We feel it is important to continue to be consistent with this penalty for both the long and short term.” That’s nice, but it doesn’t say much. Until it’s made more clear what the consideration and debate involved, the innocent driver and teams — and the viewers at home — will be the ones who continue to lose out the most.
  • Engine manufacturers will only earn points scored by entrants using one of their first five engines of the season (i.e. if a driver wins with engine number six, the manufacturer doesn’t receive those points). This one is interesting. The addition of a measure to increase motivation for the manufacturers to improve reliability may mitigate the impact of that vilified 10-spot rule somewhat. (It won’t stop the griping, though.)

Overall impressions: With the exception of the engine change penalties, the rules for 2013 appear to be another step in the right direction for IndyCar. Many of them were made either directly in response to fan requests or with the fan viewing experience in mind, which is the ideal way for a rulebook to be designed. Some of them may see tweaks as the year progresses (much as some rules did in 2012), but the openness, ongoing flexibility, and fan centricity being practiced by IndyCar’s Race Control at the moment continue to be a breath of fresh air.

What are your impressions of the new procedures and rule changes? Were there any that stood out to you as being especially good or bad? Let us know in the comments section below.

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