On street courses, double-file restarts have overstayed their welcome

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on October 9, 2013 12:51 pm

We can likely all agree that IndyCar came away from the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston with many important lessons to build from.

However, there was one variation from standard procedure this weekend that could easily get swept under the rug with all of the bigger issues swirling around. Let’s turn a spotlight onto it before the potential benefit gets lost in the shuffle.

IndyCar used single-file restarts in both races this past weekend because of concerns over running the cars two-wide through the ground-down section on the front stretch.

You didn’t realize it at the time, but you didn’t miss restarting double-file at all, did you?

(Frankly, there was enough yellow-flag time this weekend without adding double-file restarts to the mix — but I digress.)

Double-file restarts on short ovals and permanent road courses, where there’s plenty of room for cars to get racy side-by-side, are a clear benefit. They make it harder for the faster cars to get a big jump on the rest of the field at facilities where that can be far too easy at times. They definitely make the racing at those types of tracks closer and more exciting.

But at street courses, where a few inches can mean the difference between clean running and getting into the marbles or the wall? Not so much.

Too many times we’ve seen examples — Baltimore being a recent and shining example — where the green flag come out with the field only half-gridded (or worse), then a couple of drivers get overly ambitious, cars slam into each other in turn 1, they slide in every direction, the track gets blocked, and out comes another yellow. Wash, rinse, and repeat, and the caution periods seem to drag on for eons.

Do you consider that exciting? I sure don’t.

At Houston, on the other hand, the restarts were clean and there were clearly good enough passing opportunities throughout the track because the racing was great much of the time.

The drivers certainly wouldn’t miss double-file restarts on street courses — my understanding is that their distaste for them is nearly universal. The fans wouldn’t miss them either once they realized how much the volume of actual racing time increased.

In fact, the only people who are guaranteed to miss them are the invoicing people in the replacement parts department at Dallara.

Randy Bernard had some great ideas, but this one has overstayed its welcome. At street course races in 2014, let’s show double-file restarts the door.