Beaux Barfield, the new president of competition in the IZOD IndyCar Series, agreed to answer questions from readers of RACER and RACER.com. We gathered the best of them, threw in a couple of our own, and Beaux came back with these answers. Thanks to @JohnHendricks3, @PDLounge, @Kilovar1959, @TornadoRebel, @PascalF1, @CVillalobos_27 and Rory Brook for their contributions. Other contributors wished to remain anonymous.
Q. Will heat races on ovals give championship points or is it just for starting positions?
A. That is still to be determined. The pole position point will still be there for the winner of the final heat race and we've kicked around a few ideas for a points structure for all heats to greater incentivize passing and moving through the field, but we haven't finalized that yet.
Q. Standing starts – when and where?
A. Toward the end of the season but it's still to be determined. I've got my eye on a few events but I don't want to say anything until we get closer to making it official. There are potential issues mechanically that need to be fine-tuned, and I'm aware people say that there's the possibility of people stalling, but I don't see a lot of complaints about the possibility of stalling leaving the pit box. I realize they're not exactly the same – it's not the same as having 28 or 29 drivers sitting on the grid trying to make the greatest start ever – but it's not totally different, either.
Q. Last year Dario Franchitti hit the tires in Will Power's pit at Milwaukee. Should incidents like that be punished or not? I'm thinking with 28 or 29 cars out there and these cars having really long noses, there could be a problem with getting into pit boxes at places like Mid-Ohio and probably others.
A. Well there are two parts to my answer. I agree with there being no call on Dario, because I didn't think it was appropriate for Will's crew to put their tires out so early and make it difficult for Dario to get into his pit box. But there's a bigger picture of teams needing to co-exist peacefully in pit lane, and, by and large, I think if we see some similar pit lane incidents as we did last year, there will be more penalties than there have been in the past.
Q. Will IndyCar ever run at places like Road Atlanta or Road America?
A. Honestly, those are two venues that have specifically been mentioned since I've been in the IndyCar offices over the last two months. I think Road America is on everyone's wish list among teams, drivers and the personnel in the IndyCar office. Road Atlanta would probably require a little more cooperation and coordination from different entities than Road America would, but certainly they are both venues that could be seen on the IndyCar calendar in years to come.
Q. What can be done, if anything, to ensure a more aligned, slower start to this year's Indianapolis 500?
A. One thing I've got my eye on that pertains not only to Indy but also other IndyCar events is the use of the pace car and how it controls the field. Over the last 10-plus years, I've honestly been baffled by the fact that the pace car pulls off the lap before the green flag and basically allows the leaders to 1) go early, and 2) set a pace that doesn't give a chance to the rest of the cars to keep up and/or be properly aligned.
So, from the very first green flag this year, we shall be more aggressive in how we use the pace car to manage the rolling grid formations. That's a large step, I believe, to having proper starts at every circuit. At Long Beach, for instance, if the pace car stayed on track all the way to pit in, that would force the leaders to restrict their speed for longer which would allow even those at the back of the grid to get in position before the green.
Q. I'd love a return to the “flying start” at the 500, with 11 rows of three taking the flag. Will you call off a strung-out start?
A. Interesting question because ultimately every race series I've ever been a part of, the race director himself did not call off a start. That responsibility and power lies in the hands of the starter. I will empower the starters as such moving forward. Therefore, it's important that they know what my expectations are and what I will and will not tolerate, and it is then up to them to make the final decision when the cars are coming at them. I think that's another thing that will contribute to improved starts for us this year.
Q. What is being done to get Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing an engine deal? This is more than an outrage...It shows disrespect.
A. Although this has been overtaken by events, (Her deal with Honda was confirmed on Friday –Ed.) I want to reply anyway. I appreciate the fan support for all of our teams and Sarah has had her ups and downs as a driver and team owner and all of us at IndyCar acknowledge, appreciate and respect that. There were people in the office working very hard, doing everything in their power to make sure that her team had a deal, although it was largely out of our control.
Q. You made the move to SA2010 helmets this year. Will you upgrade to the FIA "superhelmet" in the future?
A. That decision is not directly in my control, although I have some influence over it. We have a director of all safety for IndyCar, Jeff Horton, and I defer to him as he has the expertise and knowledge and spends all of his time researching and developing those kinds of issues.
Q. Will Katherine Legge be eligible as a rookie despite doing two seasons in Champ Car?
A. Honestly, I haven't even crossed that bridge yet. I'll wait until I see what we have as a rookie field and then take a step forward when that's finalized.
Q. Blocking on ovals – how will you define what's allowed and what isn't? And will it vary between Iowa say, compared with Indy?
A. It's difficult for me to step forward with a stance on rules if that varies from event to event. Some races have different procedures, but I think the rules themselves and need to be consistent and understandable. My stance on defending – as opposed to blocking – does not change dramatically between road course and ovals. I realize there are some special things that need to be considered at Indy, but ultimately, in my opinion, it is acceptable to initiate a move in order to defend a position. When it becomes an absolute move in reaction to a pursuer, or it's such a major move that it becomes dangerous to the other driver, that is where I draw the line and I will intervene and take action when necessary.
Q. Why is three-wide OK to start the Indy 500 but two-wide is not OK for restarts?
A. Two reasons: 1) The speed, based on different acceleration points for starts compared with restarts; and 2) the spacing of the field. Three-wide is acceptable because the initial start is slower, because the acceleration point is later and the likelihood of drafting up on the row in front of you is much less than under the tighter confines of a two-wide restart. As early as the drivers wanted to go and the officials were allowing them to go on double-file restarts last year, the point at Indy where the draft had the greatest benefit for the guys further back in the field happened to be right where they were all spreading out at Pit In – where the wall is. There are a lot of differences between starts and restarts.
Q. Don't be overwhelmed by the few voices screaming loudly for more ovals, particularly the high banked ovals. Stick to relatively flat and well-run tracks. As for road courses, get back to the classic tracks – Road America, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen and even Road Atlanta. Don't go overboard on city "events."
A. Not a question but an interesting viewpoint. I think we have to pay attention to the numbers, be that at-track attendance or at-home TV viewership and those numbers don't lie. Ultimately, as much as people seem to sit at home and ask for more oval races, that's the problem – they sit at home and don't attend them. The people who say, ‘We don't like street course races' haven't shown up; if they did, I'm sure they'd get hooked on the buzz and atmosphere at those events and they'd love it like the vast majority of the attendees.
I'm a purist, a traditionalist, a student of the sport's history and I adore the sport's heritage including flat ovals. But if we go to Milwaukee and people don't show up, how can we justify returning? We have to make business sense and although this doesn't appease the purist, we need those purists at the track if they want the ovals to thrive. I'm confident that Michael Andretti's group can make a difference to the spectator numbers at Milwaukee this year.
Q. What do you think of the suggestion of a possible drivers boycott at Texas and the argument that the new cars are too well glued to the track and will continue the pack-racing trend?
A. The fact that the drivers could potentially unify and boycott the event is unfortunate, but I've got to be open-minded to the drivers' concerns and I need to be responsive to that. Ultimately, though, the answers have to rely on the efforts that Will Phillips has made and will continue to make. There was a two-phase test agreed to by the drivers at the end of last year. We would take a handful of cars to a test – it happened last week at Texas Motor Speedway – to determine the aerodynamic package, and then we'd return with a larger group. It looks like we'll have around 15 cars at TMS on March 13, to see how they interact with each other. Based on what I know of Will's capabilities and his knowledge of what needs to be done to make the kind of race we want to see, I think the drivers should be a little more patient.
Q. Are you expecting to make fewer calls than Brian Barnhart did?
A. Not necessarily. Looking back at Toronto 2011 as the great example, I'd say I would be less strict about defending but I would definitely have been more strict about contact. If my memory serves me correctly, there were no calls about blocking, but there were also few – if any – calls about contact, and some of the incidents I saw, particularly at Turn 3, I'd have been more vocal about, for sure. Having said that, my views on being able to defend your position would likely have led to fewer incidents anyway.
Q. One of the phrases that used to be used to explain why a driver appeared to go unpunished was “he served his own penalty.” I remember thinking that was bogus – like Tagliani after taking out Rahal at Edmonton last year on the first lap. Next yellow flag, Tag was in the lead! Will your punishments be more severe than Barnhart's?
A. The punishments will match the violation. So if, say a leader during the first race of the year happens to make contact and he keeps the lead, he'll be assessed a drive-through penalty. If at the next race, the same driver makes the same contact and this time in the melee he gets shuffled to the rear of the field, he will again be given a drive-through penalty. Considering a driver's current position as a parameter for whether or not to impose a penalty is completely wrong.
Q. Several times in the past, Race Control has made calls based on whether a driver made an honest mistake while trying to pass or deliberately made a low-percentage move and put a rival off the track. Basically, it was like they were trying to guess what the drivers' intentions were, which surely can't be done 100 percent accurately. Is that going to stop from now on?
A. I learned in my first year of officiating that it was impossible to prove intent, and therefore by the nature of our sport, trying to prove intent to back up your decision of a penalty or not is completely unnecessary. So if a driver makes a mistake and, say, locks up his brakes and that initiates contact, is that something that should be penalized? Heck yes! Making a mistake, even if it wasn't his intention to hit the other driver, should be penalized.
“Responsibility” is the key word. You take responsibility from the moment you initiate a pass on someone in front of you, so if you make contact either by not positioning your car properly, locking up the brakes, or getting the car out of shape, then you will get penalized. If you're the one defending, and you make contact by moving across on the guy passing you after he's drawn alongside, then you will get penalized. Basically, if you ruin someone else's day, then you should be penalized, regardless of intent or malice or anything else.
Q. Standing/rolling starts on road and street races – what do you think are the pros and cons?
A. The biggest plus for standing starts is the fact that everyone's starting on the same straightaway, as they should, and everyone arrives at Turn 1 at a lower speed. Knock on wood, when we introduced standing starts in Champ Car five years ago (BELOW), it was very successful for not only producing a more level playing field for all competitors but also cleaner Turn 1s.
However, the rolling start has great heritage in U.S. racing and therefore is something that should never be completely eliminated. I embrace the fact that IndyCar, as it is marketed, is the most diverse race series in the world and should move forward as such. Just because we'll start having standing starts in the not too distant future, doesn't mean we won't still have rolling starts on certain road courses.
Q. And what are your criteria for whether a circuit does or doesn't feature a standing start – is it defined by how tight Turn 1 is?
A. As we take our first step toward it, that's one of the factors we'd consider but if we are to embrace it, I'd like to think it's something we have the ability to implement anywhere, even if it's not implemented everywhere.
Q. How much push-to-pass boost will drivers have?
A. It looks like push-to-pass won't be available this season. I believe the first directive that the manufacturers have been given is that push-to-pass should be 100hp, so that's a huge boost that will enable passes to be completed. I think the date of implementation is still subject to further evaluation, but based on the agreement the manufacturers have, Will has projected 2013 as being the first year of push-to-pass.
Q. Over the past few years, I've noticed a lot of drivers making themselves way too hard to pass when they're being lapped. I know they want to stay on the lead lap, but it can really ruin the race of the leader if he's pulled a gap and then sees it disappear. And come to think of it, I've seen drivers already lapped by the leader then being really unhelpful to the second and third place guys. Will you be strict on this? Or will you tell the fast guy he has to find his own way past?
A. Somewhere in between is what I'm looking for. I certainly don't want to be so proactive that I'm getting lapped cars out of the way, so the leaders aren't making the appropriate efforts to get past the backmarkers. If I move someone clear before the leaders actually get there, that creates a culture where the leader just rushes up to the tail of the backmarker and sits there until I get him out of the way, and that removes a risk and also one of the lead driver's skills. That's not racing, to me.
But, it's amazing what a message sent to a lapped car's team by Instant Messaging will do. Something like, “If the leader's not past your car by the time you get to start/finish line, your driver will be given a drive-through penalty,” is the kind of directive that gets results! Now, I'm not all about making a lot of threats in Race Control – I like my actions to speak louder. But a communication showing we're watching and willing to intervene definitely goes a long way. In ALMS, even when there were huge speed differentials between prototypes and GT cars, there were very few issues. Drivers realized they had to take care of each other. On-track behavior tended to be very, very, respectful and I expect the same in IndyCar.
Q. Protocol in qualifying. There is always some bitching and moaning about drivers getting in the way or making space when half the field – say 14 cars – have been out there on a one-minute lap like Toronto. Is that something you'll carefully monitor?
A. It's always been an issue in this series and I want to be very careful about how I police it. If I'm very aggressive and strict about it, then it will give the impression to the drivers that they have an unlimited right to a free clear lap every time they're on a qualifying run and that isn't right, to me. You and your team have to be creative and deal with the conditions that are inherent with 14 or 15 cars on a one-minute lap. So for me to throw a lot of penalties down would create the wrong culture in terms of expectations. I understand if someone is going only half speed in order to save their tires or give themselves a gap ahead before their qualifying run and they ruin someone else's qualifying run, then that needs to be dealt with. But if someone is legitimately getting up to speed and happens to get in another driver's way, then I should not intervene.
It's like what we were just saying about getting lapped traffic out of the way. I will not create a culture where a guy going for pole charges up to the tail of the guy getting up to speed, bails out of his qualifying run and screams for a penalty instead of overtaking and keeping his run going. After all, a driver could use that tactic malevolently – by making it look like his rival has blocked him in order to get his rival's fastest time deleted.
Q. The number of near-misses I've seen in crowded pit lanes has been bad and often it's because teams are not looking or not caring when they send their drivers out. Will Power lost the championship last year because of this (Kentucky). I think it's important that Race Control doesn't just focus on drivers but also all pit people.
A. Excellent point. The abundance of pit lane incidents has been noticed and has already been discussed in great detail with the pit lane staff. I can tell you right now that these incidents will be handled very differently and more strictly than they have in the recent past.
There are pit lane protocol rules that I've written in my past officiating career that are not currently there in the IndyCar rulebook, and concepts that we're kicking around at the moment will be implemented sooner rather than later. They will cover both the lane usage by drivers and also when an outside front-tire guy should or should not send a car out of its pit box – stuff that hasn't been dealt with in a firm enough way and has led to too many incidents. Teams have gotten the impression that's it's just a free-for-all and that you can do what you want without penalty and take your own risks. I want to take some of that risk back and put it in the hands of IndyCar officials in order to protect everyone down there and keep pit lane safe.
Q. When IndyCar calls it a wet start, does a team have to start on wet tires? Or can they try a strategic gamble if they see it's going to soon dry up and start on slicks and thus save themselves a pit stop?
A. Once the start is declared a wet start, drivers must start on wet tires – no option. However, we have considered, in the case of prospective changing conditions, that there could be a start that can be declared an Optional Tire start, meaning that teams have a choice of tire. That way, if there has been inclement weather but it is now clearing, that could certainly make a race interesting because teams at the back might gamble and create different scenarios, which could be good for our racing.
Q. Are you foreseeing any change to the points system?
A. That is an area where I'd look to historians and the teams for input. For now, no.
Q. Will session length be altered?
A. Not significantly. The only thing on my radar regarding that is whether we've implemented a schedule and/or tire allotment that doesn't give the teams incentive to be on track. That has often been the case in the recent past and I really want to look at ways to have our drivers and teams taking full advantage of every session, so that the fans benefit, too. Fans do not pay to go and watch a near-empty track. They pay to see their heroes in action.
Q. What's your time frame in establishing a new rulebook?
A. In my first five weeks, I was with a team of people including Will Phillips and his staff going through the rule book line by line and making it flow and make sense. It would be dangerous for me to start chopping things out because a lot of what's there has some value and there may be occurrences four or five races into the season where I'll say, “Oh, I should have kept that rule regarding X”. So it's a matter of me living with the rulebook for a year before I make massive changes to it.
Having said that, there have been major changes to the way it reads that takes a lot of the discretionary elements out of it and makes it a lot more black and white. That change in focus has given more responsibilities and rights to the competitors rather than infinitely empowering the officials. I'd say there will be much larger changes at the end of this season.