Archive for the IndyCar Category

The Return of a Bad Idea

Posted in IndyCar on February 28, 2020 by Oilpressure

What was a highly unpopular rule in the NTT IndyCar Series back in 2012 and 2013, is making an unwanted return for 2020, albeit with some improvements. How do you improve on a bad idea? Does the improvement make it not as bad? It doesn’t suddenly make it a good idea, mind you – it’s still a bad idea. I guess we’re just not supposed to gripe about it as much.

I’m talking about grid penalties for making an unauthorized engine change.

For two seasons, beginning in 2012 – drivers were punished for making an engine change before the engine exceeded 2,500 miles. Even if an engine exploded on the main straightaway at the season-opener, no matter where the driver qualified for the next race, he or she incurred a ten grid-spot penalty for that race. So even if a driver qualified outside of the front-row, that driver would start the race in the twelfth starting-spot.

Most casual fans did not understand this. They would leave the track on Saturday thinking that Will Power had won the pole, only to return on Sunday and see him starting inside on the sixth row. They were confused and seldom got an explanation that they understood.

The hard-core fans understood it, but hated it. Why should their driver have their great qualifying spot taken away from them, simply because their engine manufacturer made an engine that blew up?

Casual fans were confused and the knowledgeable fan base was angry. It was for those reasons that this practice went away for the 2014 season and beyond. Since then, the rules were changed to punish the manufacturer in the manufacturer’s championship instead of hurting the driver in the midst of pursuing a championship. In my opinion, that was the way to go.

But much like a bad Rocky film – it came back in a softened version. For 2020, grid-penalties will return but in a revamped version. For starters, the penalty is not as harsh. The penalty will be only six spots on a road or street course, and nine spots on an oval.

Another plus (I suppose) is that it will be a while before we see these enforced. It used to be that as soon as the engine was swapped out before the mileage limit, the driver was penalized at the start of the next available race. Even if the engine change took place just because it didn’t sound quite right on race morning, the penalty would be enforced that day for the start of the race.

With this new version of grid-penalties – the penalty is not enforced until the car has exceeded their four-engine allotment for the season. Theoretically, a driver could have a fresh engine for the first four races of the season, but that fourth engine would have to last for the rest of the season without the driver incurring a penalty. Whenever a driver goes to that fifth engine – that’s when the penalty will be enforced, along with any subsequent engine change for the remainder of the season.

To me, that’s an improvement – but I still see this as a bad idea. And I’m still not sure it’s possible to improve a bad idea. Personally, I am not in favor of punishing drivers over something that is not in their control.

If you listened to Trackside this past Wednesday night, you heard them explain that this rule was put in place to “…protect the manufacturers from themselves”. I’ve never cared for that phrase, whether it was referring to a person, a group of people or a corporation. It basically infers that someone is too stupid to make decisions on their own. That’s the same logic that requires nutritional information on every McDonald’s menu. If you’re really wanting to eat healthy food, why are you in McDonald’s in the first place? But I digress…

Honda and Chevy are certainly capable of making decisions without having to be protected from themselves. They chose to eschew the manufacturer’s title in favor of giving a driver in a title chase a fresh engine. For example, Josef Newgarden went through six engines (two above the mandated four) this past season, while Scott Dixon only used four. Chevy deemed it more important for their driver to win the title than for them to win the manufacturer’s title. Did they need to be protected from making this decision in the future? Apparently so.

I understand that the intent of this rule is to help hold down costs. It stems from the CART days when a car may go through three or more engines on any given race weekend. Those engines were built for high performance over a very short period of time, and money was no object. That is not the case today, so something does need to be in place to help hold down costs. But I am bitterly opposed to punishing a driver for something out of their control. Rarely is the driver responsible for an unauthorized engine change.

In sports, it’s never a good thing when the officials become the story – especially when a championship is on the line. We remember when Helio Castroneves was penalized for making what was deemed an illegal pass for the lead at Edmonton in 2010. If you don’t remember the incident, surely you remember the comical sight of Helio choking Charles Burns, head of IndyCar security and someone who was about three times bigger than Helio.

What will happen in September if Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden are separated by a single point after Portland, but during practice for Laguna Seca, Newgarden’s engine suddenly expires during practice. Through no fault of his own, Newgarden knows going into qualifying that no matter how he performs, the best starting spot he can hope for is seventh. If Rossi wins the pole and double-points are awarded with it being the season-finale – barring a miracle, it’s most likely game over for Newgarden before he even starts. Is it fair to put him in that much of a hole to start the finale simply because some piece in his Chevy engine let go at an inopportune time?

This is probably the worst example of officiating directly interfering or altering a championship. The fans don’t like it and I’m sure the drivers don’t either. Unlike past eras, there are smart people making these decisions with IndyCar. Couldn’t they come up with a better way to contain costs than by punishing the driver?

George Phillips

New IndyCar Teams Must be Patient

Posted in IndyCar on February 26, 2020 by Oilpressure

On Monday, I wrote of the surprise announcement by Citrone/Buhl Autosport to participate in the two races at IMS during the Month of May and possibly more races during the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. I’m sure they have realistic, yet still high aspirations for what they can expect this season and beyond.

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A Surprise Announcement Out of Nowhere

Posted in IndyCar on February 24, 2020 by Oilpressure

With the internet, social media and the never-ending quest to be first – it’s hard to keep a secret in the racing world these days. Without a doubt, the best-kept secret I’ve seen in a while was when Roger Penske announced that he was buying IMS, IndyCar and IMS Productions from Hulman and Company back on Nov 4. Never had I seen such an announcement of that magnitude kept completely under wraps like that one was.

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We Sure Missed a Lot

Posted in IndyCar on February 21, 2020 by Oilpressure

Wouldn’t you know it? I take off for a few days of rest and relaxation and all the news breaks in the racing world. Fortunately we had internet access throughout our cruise to Cozumel so I was able to keep up with everything. Since the news broke a week ago, most of you know all of the news that Roger Penske broke in his “100 Days From the 500” press conference last Friday. Among the highlights announced was a bigger purse for the Indianapolis 500, that is increasing by $2 million to a record $15 million. He also announced upgrades to the facility including new video boards for the Paddock seats and improved video boards elsewhere in the facility; and much needed improved restroom facilities.

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Our Cozumel Cruise

Posted in IndyCar on February 21, 2020 by Oilpressure

Most of you know that Susan and I spend practically all of our available vacation going to IndyCar races. While Susan loves going to races almost as much as I do, she has wanted to go on at least one vacation that did not involve going to a race track for a few years now. So I splurged and gave her a cruise for Christmas on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas.

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Mr. & Mrs. Oilpressure are Cruising!

Posted in IndyCar on February 12, 2020 by Oilpressure

Most of you know by now that the Open Test at COTA yesterday was mostly a non-event. Cold temperatures and drizzle did not make for a good test session. A few installation laps at slow speeds was about the only running that anyone did, before they called it a day just before 3:00 local time. That did give us a chance to see the new liveries and most importantly – our first real glimpse of the aero-screen on all the cars. Although I’ve been critical on how the car looks with this contraption – I’ll admit that I didn’t think it looked that bad while the cars were actually moving around. If you take a still-shot from head-on, that is just simply not a good look. But yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised how the cars looked while moving (although, not at speed). IndyCar will try again today, when the forecast looks better than yesterday’s.

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In Search of Some Winter Warmth

Posted in IndyCar on February 10, 2020 by Oilpressure

Although we in the south don’t catch the brunt of winter as many parts of the country, we get our share. Just this past Friday, we woke up to about three inches of snow on the ground in Nashville, with more coming down. We had temperatures in the sixties just a few days earlier, so it didn’t stick around very long. It was just the second time this winter for us to have snow on the ground this winter, but it served as a stark reminder that we are still in the throes of winter. We’ve mostly just experienced just a lot of cold rain this winter. In fact, this past weekend was our first weekend in 2020 that we didn’t have any rainfall all weekend.

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