Drivers cringe at thought of Indy's new restarts
After a crazy qualifying weekend and frantic deal-cutting Monday to get Ryan Hunter-Reay back into the race, Indy 500 drivers now can focus on the greatest controversy in IndyCar racing: the new double-file restarts.
Pole-sitter Canadian Alex Tagliani calls the restarts ''really stupid,'' and such short, curt responses have been the norm from drivers all month.
''That's what happens when you try to imitate NASCAR,'' Marco Andretti said after getting collected in a crash at the season-opener in St. Petersburg. ''Our cars have too much power to start right nose-to-tail, you know. It creates disasters.''
With Indianapolis Motor Speedway's narrow groove, excessive rubber buildup in the corners and traditionally tricky winds, Sunday's race could turn into a demolition derby. At least that's the warning coming from Gasoline Alley.
So IndyCar officials have spent the past week meeting with track officials to figure out a solution.
One change already has been made. IndyCar spokeswoman Amy Konrath said Tuesday the track will use four sweepers to clean the tiny rubber pieces, often referred to as marbles, out of the corners. Two trucks will be used in tandem to clean the first two turns, and two more will the clean the third and fourth turns.
Traditionally, the track has used only two sweepers on race day.
The hope is the marbles will be cleaned up before the race restarts.
One key issue still to be determined is where drivers will be told to accelerate in the mile-long front straightaway. The farther back it is, the less likely it is for a massive pileup in the first corner. Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's president of competition and racing operations, is scheduled to meet with three drivers on Thursday about that concern.
But no matter what Barnhart decides, it's unlikely to tone down the reaction in Gasoline Alley.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said it was team owners who lobbied for the new restarts. In January, he announced they would be used only on ovals this season. When drivers complained it would be too dangerous on Indy's historic 2.5-mile ovals, Bernard adapted, deciding to use them on the road and street courses, too.
Bernard contends IndyCar drivers are the best in the world, and they should be able to figure out how to make double-file restarts work safely.
''Look, I think as long as we keep the double-file restarts, they're not going to be satisfied,'' he said. ''But I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, and this was their idea. This is racing.''
Sunday's 33 starters might pick a more colorful term to describe what's happened on the track this season.
At St. Pete, there were four full-course cautions in the first 14 laps, with five cars running into trouble on the opening turn.
At the next race, in Alabama, Barnhart tweaked the procedure and things improved over the last three races.
Still, concerns remain about double-file restarts at Indy.
''I think when you double file you have no opportunity to pass,'' said points leader Will Power, the Aussie who drives for Team Penske. ''You're sort of stuck in your row, so that's going to make it really interesting. I think the last two restarts of the day are going to be pretty wild.''
Most drivers seem resigned to the change, and complaints have become more muted this week, with drivers saying they'll follow the rules.
''If they tell us to line up three-wide, four-wide, double file, we'll do it,'' said Paul Tracy, who's driving for Dreyer & Reinbold and will start 24th. ''They tell us what to do, and we do it.''
Clearly, though, drivers don't like the concept, the carnage or the conversation.
No matter. Officials are not changing their minds or their rules.
''I's great for the fans if they want to see 10 cars piled up in the first turn, but maybe we can get ourselves sorted out at some point,'' South African Tomas Scheckter said after qualifying the No. 07 car for KV Racing Technology. ''My predication is there's probably gonna be some crashes.''