An Idea Worth Trying

This past Tuesday, the IZOD IndyCar Series unveiled their procedures regarding the three double-header weekends in the upcoming 2013 schedule. On Wednesday, a change in the points system was announced, but for our discussion purposes in this post – we’ll focus on the double headers. The point structure is a whole other discussion for another day.

As far as the double-headers go, there was as much celebration as there was hand-wringing on Twitter after the announcement. Some may be surprised to find me in the middle.

The three double-header weekends are at Belle Isle, Toronto and the new event in Houston. Since there are two separate races each of those weekends, there will be two qualifying sessions. For the race scheduled on Saturday, there will be a qualifying session on Friday. Then, before the Saturday race takes place, there will be a Saturday morning qualifying session for the second race scheduled for Sunday.

The Friday session will follow the familiar Firestone Fast Six format. However, the first round will be trimmed from fifteen minutes to ten. The biggest difference will be that the teams will be able to use as many tires from their weekend allotment as they want during qualifying. This is designed to minimize the chance of cars sitting in the pits for the first eight minutes of a ten-minute session, and encourage teams to utilize all the time in the session. The Saturday session will be a thirty-minute session involving all cars.

For the Toronto and Houston races, standing starts will be implemented for the first time ever in IndyCar competition for the Saturday races, while traditional flying (rolling) starts will be the rule in the Sunday events. Flying starts will be used at Belle Isle for both events, simply because the track layout is not conducive to standing starts. The series is also considering adding standing starts to a couple of other road/street course events.

Most know how much I detest change. I live by the simple rule that change is bad! Obviously, instituting standing starts into the series is a drastic change. But do I hate it? Not particularly. Am I ecstatic about it? Not really. I’m really very curious about the whole concept and that’s about it.

Most drivers have encountered standing starts at some point in their career throughout the various ladder series, but it’s been a while for the majority of them. Champ Car instituted some standing starts in their last year of existence during the 2007 season. Many Champ Car drivers expressed great levels of apprehension at the mere thought of standing starts. For the record, the first time standing starts were used was in Portland on June 10, 2007 and it came off without incident.

The Champ Car advocates and Formula One fans are all in favor of seeing standing starts take place in IndyCar. The old guard IRL devotees are shaking their collective heads. To them, this is just another step away from the “vision” of the mid-nineties that had an all-oval series catering to American drivers and mechanics that worked on their own engines.

For the most part, I’m ambivalent about the whole thing. I’m always opposed to changing something just for the sake of change. If there’s a reason for it, I can get on board. The iPhone 5? That’s change for the good. Windows Vista? Not so much. When it comes to standing starts on road/street courses, I could get on board with that if it actually improves the overall product.

If you’ve seen starts at Sonoma or Long Beach, you know that on flying starts, the first few rows are long gone before two-thirds of the field has even gone through the final turn before the line. If a normally fast car has had a bad qualifying run, they are likely to stay mired in the back on many road/street courses that offer few passing opportunities. With a standing start, a good driver stuck close to the back, can make a bold move on the start and be near the front before the first turn. Personally – from what we’ve seen from him on flying starts, I can’t wait to see what magic Tony Kanaan can work from a standing start.

Our friend Pressdog mentioned on Twitter that standing starts could be “a festival of carbon fiber”. Translated, that means a crash fest. But he later went on to explain that so long as drivers were uninjured, that is not always a bad thing. I agree. The series needs new fans. Unfortunately, you need to attract new fans anyway you can. If that means spectacular crashes that end up on SportsCenter – that can’t hurt when trying to get new fans to tune into next week’s race.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t advocate crashes. I am always insulted when I hear people say that the only reason anyone watches racing is to watch the crashes. Statements like that come from mindless idiots that know nothing about this sport and have probably never watched a complete race from start to finish. They only see what is shown on SportsCenter and base their judgments on a ninety-second highlight reel.

But the element of suspense from a standing start has its value. The standing start to a Formula One race offers drama that is hard to match. The sound of the engines revving together in unison and then unleashed at the exact same instant in close proximity to all other cars is hard to beat. It takes a healthy combination of skill and luck to make it through the first turn unscathed. That’s a wild-car variable that IndyCar is currently lacking. If Will Power or Dario Franchitti are starting from the front at Mid-Ohio with a flying start – chances are that they will be there when the checkered flag waves. The standing start makes things much more unpredictable – especially with the problematic hand clutch of the DW12.

Detractors are saying that this is a gimmick that the IZOD IndyCar Series doesn’t need. If they were racing before sellout crowds and skyrocketing television numbers, I would agree. But that’s not the case. The series needs help – lots of help. This is an idea that is worth trying. If it is a dismal failure, it should be tossed. But how will they know if they don’t try it? Trying it at just a few events is a good way to evaluate it. Who knows? It may be a hit.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “An Idea Worth Trying”

  1. I was under the impression there would be a standing start at Detroit on Saturday. Now none? I was on the fence about going that Saturday already because I am going to a race the weekend before, but this probably clinches it. No Detroit this year. Law School in Lansing is over before the summer 2014 so I doubt I ever make it back. Will still keep going to Mid-Ohio though with or without standing starts. Hopefully they add them in ’14.

  2. You’re open to change? It’s like you’re 45 again, George.

  3. With the double header weekend and standing starts, I think Houston could be worth the trip! I won’t be able to pull it off this year, but next year I might. Count me in on this new format! What an exciting weekend.

  4. I’m still waiting for the mid-course loop-d-loop…

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I’ll be watching the races with great interest regardless of how they start, but I think it would be best for Indycar to continue using only rolling starts. Part of this opinion is rooted in my personal preference for rolling over standing starts, I think they are much more interesting to watch. Part is based on my fear that standing starts are yet another thing that will exacerbate the confusion between Indycar and Formula 1 for casual fans.

    Having one standing and one rolling start at doubleheaders is a nice compromise. Moving the starting line to a longer section of the track (like CART did at the first Houston street course), is something Indycar should consider to improve rolling starts at tracks where they have been problematic.

  6. Well I am definitely old guard, old school, and just plain old (one of those 73 yo that Pressdog made fun of this week.) Having said that I am looking forward to the standing starts. I have seen them at Elkhart Lake and they were exciting to watch. Crashes were minimal. The old Le Mans style standing starts when the drivers would have to run to their cars was also exciting, but dangerous for slow runners as you might imagine.

    In your second last paragraph I think you pretty well summed up the attraction for fans. I think BB King did this in response to fan requests and to simply try something new. No more complicated than that. Those strung out rolling starts on street courses are BORING!

  7. Chris Lukens Says:

    I don’t like change either, but I’m slowly warming up to the idea of doubleheader weekends. I do like the idea of different procedures for qualifying and starts on different days. I just think they should have taken the extra step and added 20 laps to Sundays race. That would have made for completely different races. I’ll be curious to see the TV ratings for Houston and Toronto. I think Belle Isle, just like every other TV broadcast from there, will be a borefest. It may be an exciting race in person, but on TV the cars just look slow. Plus I don’t think people have come to grips with what the disaster at Detroit did to TV ratings for the rest of the season last year. People watched the 500 and were excited by speed, the drama and thought this is something they could follow. Then they tuned next week and saw……., well what did they see, probably nothing. They didn’t tune in to the subsequent three different channels to watch and they probably didn’t tune in to watch the rest of the year. I would much rather have seen Baltimore get a Saturday race. But what Roger wants, Roger gets.
    As I type this, 57 days, 19 hours until St Pete. I’m ready for the season to start.

  8. james t suel Says:

    Amateur hour is what standing starts mean to me! I know F1 uses them ,but this is american open wheel racing.Oh i will still watch but more of a slide into euro style racing!!

  9. I don’t understand what has taken IndyCar so long to bring standing starts to their road/street races. A standing start is what the whole world (and every F1 fan in America) is familiar with. It’s also easier for Race Control to govern. How many times has a rolling start been waved off because someone jumped it? If someone goes early on a standing start, they get a drive-thru penalty. It’s also easier to establish an exact time of day for a standing start. One reconnaissance (or parade) lap, get everyone grided, and start the light sequence. And NBC’s Leigh Diffey already knows how to build up the excitement of a standing start!

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