Driver opinions matter more in IndyCar
The new race director for the IndyCar Series wants improved communications with the drivers, and is willing to listen to their concerns about specific racing issues.
Among the issues Beaux Barfield said Wednesday he will take under consideration is the drivers’ displeasure with using double-file restarts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Double-file restarts were added to the series last season and were quickly criticized as both IndyCar and the drivers struggled through execution and policing the new practice.
The drivers also were adamantly opposed to using double-file restarts in the Indianapolis 500, but IndyCar kept them. Most drivers remain opposed to using double-file restarts in this year’s race.
Barfield, hired as president of competition and race director in January, said he’s in favor of double-file restarts but will listen to driver concerns.
”Double-file restarts is something that was brought in and not given an appropriate effort either by the officials or the drivers, and I think it took a worse rap than it should have,” Barfield said. ”The racer in me didn’t like them, but when I did see the good efforts of the officials to make adjustments to them … it brought the kind of excitement to our product that IndyCar needs to get to the next level.
”That being said, there’s a couple of places that the drivers have legitimate concerns that they’d rather not do double-file restarts. I’m open-minded and going to listen to what they have to say.”
Asked if double-file restarts will be used in the Indy 500, Barfield said ”it’s under consideration.”
Communication between the drivers and race control deteriorated last season under former race director Brian Barnhart. A complex rule book that gave Barnhart discretionary power in many officiating decisions led to the breakdown, and as the season came to a close, Barnhart seemed to have lost the respect of the paddock.
He was relieved as race director during the offseason and Barfield, who spent the last four seasons as race director of the ALMS sports car series, was brought into the job at the start of the year. Barfield’s first task was re-writing the IndyCar rule book, which he did with vice president of technology Will Phillips.
Barfield said he reformatted the rule book to improve both its readability and flow, which would be the most noticeable difference in what was electronically distributed to race teams late Tuesday.
But, perhaps the more important overhaul in terms of perception for IndyCar, was the elimination of nearly all instances that gave the race director discretionary power in officiating decisions.
Barfield said the rule book used last season had more than 90 instances where the discretion of the race director could be applied. Drivers complained it created unfair and arbitrary policing, and it contributed to them losing faith in Barnhart.
The 2012 rule book has only six instances where the race director can use his discretion, but Barfield said there’s still a clause that allows officials ”latitude to fix problems that come up that have never been seen before.” But Barfield said he’s striving to never have to use that power, and to rule in a very black-and-white manner.
”It’s an absolutely tighter rule book,” he said. ”As much as I’ve evolved and developed as a race official, you learn that you can’t think about how a ruling or penalty will affect a race team, or a driver, or harm a race team. You can’t consider those things. It’s racing and if there’s an incident that has to be looked at face value – blocking, contact, anything – the rules are the rules and have to be applied how they are written.
”A statement has to be made that you are in control of your paddock. You have to remove the emotion in officiating, because it’s easy to have sympathy but when you do, you are going down a slippery slope.”
Barfield will discuss in greater detail the 2012 rule book and introduce his officiating team next week during planned ”State of IndyCar” activities. He wouldn’t reveal his stewards for 2012, but said two recent hires are former drivers and race control will consist of Barfield and three other stewards.
Tweaks to the rule book already announced include:
The use of an instant messaging system between race control, officials and race team managers in which Barfield can communicate track conditions, warnings, penalties and other information. Barfield said he used the system, which will complement radio communication, at ALMS and it’s ”new to IndyCar, but late to IndyCar.”
Standard IndyCar tech bodywork parts must be able to fit a team’s car during technical inspection.
A minimum of two track condition radio steering wheel lights will be standard, and act in unison with dash lights and complement audio and trackside visual caution warning systems.
Manufacturer points will be awarded on a race-by-race basis and added throughout the season to crown a champion between Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus. The highest-finishing engine manufacturer earns 9 points; the second highest-placing manufacturer earns 6 points and the third-highest manufacturer receives 4 points.
Barfield also added an open test for March 13 at Texas Motor Speedway to complement the private test Feb. 19-21 at the 1.5-mile oval.
The first test will consist of just three drivers, one from each manufacturer, to help set the aerodynamic package for the June race at Texas. The second test will be for any teams wishing to get acclimated with the 2012 car on a high-banked oval.
There’s been concern about racing on high-banked ovals since the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon in last October’s season finale at Las Vegas, and the previously announced season finale at Las Vegas has been dropped from the 2012 schedule. IndyCar currently has four ovals on the upcoming schedule – Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and California – and drivers and series officials want to make sure the car is compatible at those tracks.
”It’s going to be a two-phase test, and it was really established by a lot of driver input,” Barfield said. ”We’re definitely listening, we’re open-minded and we’re trying to be as transparent as we can be going forward. I think people will see that transparency and open communications will definitely be a common theme this year.”