As an official in a championship-deciding event, you don't want to be remembered. You want to remain anonymous, in the background, out of site – just doing your job and doing so in a way that remains consistent with protocol and procedure that you've set forth over the course of the year.
As IndyCar's president of competition, Beaux Barfield's first season at the helm has been mostly in the background, although there have been several times where he was front and center. Throughout the year, his transparency provided has been one of the most refreshing elements, that no call or decision was made without post-race explanation.
For the season-concluding MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, the goal as ever for Barfield is to stick to business as usual – just do the same job of officiating as in the year's prior 14 races.
“No, not at all,” he responded when asked if the season finale might provide a different outlook from an officiating standpoint. “The only thing I'd be – not concerned with – but looking at closely is watching what teammates do,” he added. “We don't have any specific ‘team orders' rule. So in terms of any ‘game playing,' you have to be careful about that, but that's about it.”
Championship contenders Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay have had their moments of frustration this year but only one related to officiating. Power was called for a blocking penalty on Tony Kanaan while leading at Texas, consigning him to an eighth-place finish, but admitted the call was the right one.
Given the context, any calls need to be made regardless of who is the offending driver at the particular moment, Barfield explained.
“Similar infractions by anyone, including championship contenders, will be called the same way,” he said. “Some people might say you have to step in with the philosophy of, ‘hands off, let them decide the championship.' But the reality is, a no-call could be as decisive in the championship as a call itself. So in terms of stepping back, and not calling something that was similarly called earlier in the year, would be a dangerous precedent and lack consistency.”
As at Indianapolis and Texas, the series will have single-file restarts. With restarts in the crosshairs after Hunter-Reay's launch out of the chicane to pass Ryan Briscoe for the lead on the second-to-last restart in Baltimore, Barfield confirmed a similar restart procedure will be enforced. Cars can pass either to the inside or outside once the starter displays the green flag. Why the single file?
“We'd made the efforts with our drivers to go away from pack racing,” he said. “And that's a factor that needed to be done away with to prevent that on the big tracks.
“Tony Kanaan is pretty famous – or infamous – for his efforts on restarts,” he added. “And when he and I were driving around the track at Fontana, discussing the track and its aero package, and the race itself, when I reminded him we're doing single-file restarts, he was very happy, I'll say. It's a good opportunity for him. For how grueling this 500-mile race at Fontana will be, he's looking for anything to ease the intensity in going through the race.”
Of course, this isn't Barfield's first rodeo – this year's Indianapolis 500 didn't have any officiating controversy and in years past, he's reffed championship-deciders in the American Le Mans Series. The multiclass structure there, including one-off appearances from Audi and Peugeot in recent years, has meant a closer eye to detail and not allowing guest cars to interrupt the flow of the race.
“The multiclass racing presented its different challenges, but the intensity with IndyCar racing is second to none,” Barfield said. “In terms of it appearing easier for the races, it's added an intensity level that forces me to up my game. There are easier aspects but it's still intense in race control.”
And like others have said, Fontana is set to play out in a similar way to Texas, where cars will be sliding around based on the downforce levels and the drivers will have to work hard to corral the cars for the race distance.
“I think that based on what we saw at the test, from that driver feedback, it's going to be a very challenging race,” he surmised. “We've definitely put the driver back in play with the aero package that we've mandated. There will certainly be a conventional line in terms of drivers arching it into the corner then releasing out on exit. I think that certainly will lend itself to good racing. There's going to be people being in different stages on a stint, and different stages of tire degradation, so there could be some major comers and goers.”