Recent events in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series have focused as much on the eyes and ears watching in race control as the racing itself. Several events – Long Beach, Toronto, Loudon and Infineon to name a few – have seen decisions made which impacted the running order and eventual results.
At Infineon, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard voiced “100-percent support” of Brian Barnhart, the series' president of competition and chief steward. The voice that hasn't been heard much this year, other than briefly explaining the end of the Loudon race on TV, is Barnhart's. We got the opportunity to speak to him on Friday before the Baltimore Grand Prix about how some of those controversial decisions come about.
RACER: When lapped cars do get moved, what goes into the process of where they are they moved to? Say, the James Jakes car got moved back from behind Helio Castroneves in second to behind Scott Dixon in fifth at Sonoma. Where was the line drawn on where the lapped cars get moved to?
Brian Barnhart: It's been one of the evolving challenges of how we've changed race restarts all year long. You know, at the beginning of the year, we talked about leaving the order as it is, and understanding the challenges of moving lapped traffic out of the way, and it's no different now. It's all a balance; it's a balance of integrity, of competition, of fairness, of not extending the event.
At Sonoma, for example or New Hampshire, that was the only time lately we got to a point we weren't going to reorder any cars. As we've adjusted the restart procedure as the year went on, there was a team consensus in trying to get the [lapped] cars out of the way, especially late in the event. I think we had the top five or six lined up at New Hampshire.
Then we started moving some cars at Sonoma, and got into this string at Sonoma of having lapped cars all throughout. We were running out of laps, so it would take too long to reposition them. You'd be surprised at how long it takes to reorder and how unresponsive teams can be.
At New Hampshire, we're running on a one-mile oval and the rain hit and we decided, say, “12 car, move in front of 67.” We called him for four laps. I was about to go and say, “12 car, you just screwed yourself!” It's a balance of how do we this, but on the other hand, you can't extend the caution, and if you extend that you cheat the fans or affect the fuel mileage someone could have under green.
At Infineon, we got the top five positioned, and I didn't want to start messing with anything further than that. Then we had a lapped car, then two lead lap cars, then two lapped cars and then another lead lap car. We would have been shuffling cars around and, they just aren't familiar enough with making that change, so at our discretion, you know what, we've got the top five here, that's all we're gonna do and we're gonna go. We're not gonna extend the yellow any longer than this.
And that's a word that's been used a lot lately – discretion. In terms of using your best judgment, what's best for the competitors, what's safest, what allows you to get back going. How do you determine the precedent that sets that?
Well let me ask you guys that – that's what I get frustrated about. We're officials. What do you think every official in every sport exercises?
Caution and safety for everyone involved?
Discretion! What do you think an official does? An official utilizes judgment. All discretion is, is judgment. And you know, as an official, you are looking to see that the competitors don't advantage or disadvantage themselves or the competition in an unsportsmanlike fashion. If you look at other sports, there are so many subjective calls. Holding in football…
It could happen on every play but isn't always called.
Why isn't it? Because officials are exercising discretion! Everyone's acting like we're the only ones who exercise discretion, but officials do in every sport. Did that offensive lineman violate the rules and disadvantage the defensive lineman in breaking the rules? Say if this guy would have sacked the quarterback, you're gonna call it.
That happens all the time in basketball. When [NBA referees] are miked? They make discretionary calls based on did that disadvantage that guy or not. Palming or traveling happens but isn't always called. When you dribble a basketball, the rule says you have to dribble with your hand on top. Nobody does that.
In their interpretation of the rules, what's called and what's not, as an official you exercise that discretion to see if a competitor has disadvantaged the competition in an unsportsmanlike fashion. That's no different than what we do. We're officials just like basketball, baseball, football. For an official, all they do is use their judgment. That's what they do. They adjudicate.
How does having both Al Unser Jr. and Tony Cotman in race control help you determine what should be the correct call?
I always make comparisons to other sports. The first answer I'd give, the more qualified pairs of eyes we have to watch things from race control, the better. Our sport continues to get more competitive. The goal post isn't changing much and the back half catches up. Now, when 22 cars at Infineon run within 0.9sec, the competition is so tight, that more eyes is a good thing.
Again, I guess, I know there are criticisms that say, “Oh, he isn't an ex-racer.” Well, does that mean the best NFL official has to be a former player? I don't see any former NBA players as officials. Why does it have to be a former racer to be in race control? I don't think there's fair criticisms applied to this series compared to other sports. I may have never driven, but I've been in it since I was yay-high, and just because I haven't put a helmet on doesn't mean I don't know about what goes on.