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.