Following the IZOD IndyCar Series' race at Detroit, RACER web editor Tony DiZinno caught up with IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield for a debrief on some of the items that came up during the race.
RACER: During your first TV interview, right after the red flag, you'd said you'd heard of debris chunks coming up about lap 5/6 or so. Was there any thought as to a "competition caution" at that point?
BEAUX BARFIELD: I didn't even consider anything like that. We kept a close eye on the two areas. We knew they became issues. I had no idea throughout the weekend it would be a problem. None of those issues or track areas showed any kind of track area that would be coming up. It kind of surprised me, so we just kept a close eye on it. We knew there was a bit of break-up, but it was soft and lightweight so I decided to live with it. Rather than overreact, once I saw it started to unravel, I saw it was about four inches deep.
I have nothing but positive things to say about the way the promoter reacted to it. It was all hands on deck. I was kind of surprised at that kind of repair – using that kind of soft tar – which really should only be used for breaks that are half an inch to three-quarter of an inch deep.
R: Dario Franchitti quipped that the tires were almost too grippy. Do you think there was too much of a gap between the two compounds, where the reds may have tore up the surface?
BB: I don't really have a theory on that yet. We were dealing with it in real time, in terms of how it started to come apart. The unfortunate piece is that we were unable to experience that earlier in the weekend.
Had we had a dry session Friday morning, for example, I think the issue would have showed its face earlier and it might have come up sooner.
R: Was there a greater instant messaging traffic frequency from teams to race control?
BB: Funny enough, not at all. The only bits and pieces were parallel with what I was already seeing on TV and communicated to me from corner workers in race control. There wasn't any increased concern that I tended to see.
R: With James Hinchcliffe's accident, that's when you did the inspection and did your first TV interview. What was your analysis at that point?
BB: The part of Hinchcliffe's incident that is so difficult for me, is that it was a perfect storm. Three cars hit that rut right in front of him at exactly the same angle. Hinch then hit the rut, at the hole created by the tar being gone. He just hit it at slightly enough of a different angle where it completely disrupted the car.
As soon as I saw his accident, I knew we had a problem we had to deal with in a serious way. As soon as that happened, we had a yellow flag immediately. Soon thereafter Takuma Sato was also in the wall but his was unrelated, and not due to any track issue.
As soon as that happened, I got in a safety truck, and went and looked at the track myself. After doing half a lap, I called for the red flag to get the track shut down. We had to get everyone out of the car and figure out the plan in terms of repairs.
The promoter responded fantastically – they had the equipment and the crew to make the fix as quickly as it could happen.
R: Is there anything in the rulebook, given the extenuating circumstances, which said either driver could re-enter the race with a backup car?
BB: Nope. It wasn't an option.
R: You had been here in 2008, in race control, with ALMS. Were there any track issues then, or do you think these were based on the four-year layoff?
BB: I think a lot of it is due to the relatively harsh winters in Detroit. They tend to do a lot of damage on that facility, on that pavement, and there was the fact there hasn't been any racing or competition on that track in four years. That hasn't helped its durability.
R: How did you come to the decision to end the race at 60 laps completed?
BB: The length of the race being shortened was ultimately dictated by several factors. I did not want to change the current strategic look of the race. I didn't want to shorten it in a way where it put certain people in contention for the win based on where they happened to be, strategy-wise.
Firestone, too, had some concerns that came up late about wanting to change tires on all cars. When they did that, I couldn't get a clear answer on whether teams had enough sets to go the full distance. To my way of thinking, if they had enough sets to go 90 laps, if we then suddenly mid-stint to ask them to change tires, that would effectively take a full set out of their race plan.
As much as I would have liked to have got a full 90 laps in, everything pointed toward shortening the race. I'm happy with the repairs and how the promoters responded, but I wasn't extremely comfortable because I knew the repairs were quick, and I didn't know how well the track would hold up.
I didn't want it to be a case of we had differing strategies and 25 laps later, we had another red flag. In terms of going green, we had to set a clear expectation of how long the rest of this race is going to be, rather than make another guessing game. That was very important.
R: The tire situation appeared to have caught a couple drivers out, so what was the call about what tires could have been run coming out of the red flag? You had said, “blacks stay on blacks, reds on reds.”
BB: That was my gut feel at the time. We were effectively mid-stint, and so to require a change mid-stint just from a logic standpoint, if Firestone wants you to change, you can only change to the current compound you're on. I didn't want that to flip-flop the race and switch the compound from one set to another.
But in retrospect, if I had to do it all over again, I would not have over-managed the situation to that extent. If Firestone wants you to change tires, then you should go ahead and put whatever tires you want on. We're gonna race 15 laps and be done.
That was an overreaction on my part. I had good support from race control and officials on the ground. It made sense. It's easy to look back now, because it was difficult circumstances. It definitely had a negative impact, unfortunately, on (Ryan) Briscoe and (Josef) Newgarden. I feel bad for them.
The timing was unfortunate as well. We didn't get the information from Firestone until almost we had drivers in the cars, and ready to go back green. We'd allowed everyone to change quickly. I was getting information on the fly, quickly, that two cars had changed compounds when I told them not to. But I didn't get the context that they didn't have a new set of their current compound tires. Had I gotten that quickly, I could have said, forget the mandate on same compound. But I couldn't make that decision before we got back going.
Having said that, the plan was in case people needed to make a repair or change tires, or even take fuel, is that the plan all along was to send the cars behind the pace car and not go green until second time by. Repair, tire change or fuel, they had an opportunity to do that before green. It's easy for me to say – based on concerns that Briscoe had afterwards, that was one where they could have taken advantage.
(Editor's note: Joe Barbieri, manager, Firestone Racing, clarified Firestone's role in what tires could be changed. His clarification, sent via email, is below.)
JOE BARBIERI: The tires on all the cars gathered quite a bit of pickup during the full-course caution period prior to the red flag. The pick-up would have been difficult to clean off the tires in the few laps after the race was to resume, so in the interest of making it a better show for the fans that stayed, we discussed with IndyCar allowing teams to switch sets for those final laps. However, the specific details about how the switch was to take place were handled and regulated by IndyCar.
R: So teams still could, but after refiring from pit lane, and before the restart.
BEAUX BARFIELD: Exactly. That would be more in line with a race-type strategy, gamble, take it upon yourself. To change your compounds on your own time, not on mine, as we're tending to track issues.
R: There hadn't been an in-race restart until after the red flag. What was your assessment of the restarts?
BB: Honestly, for what I saw, for the parameters I laid out in the drivers' meeting, I was happy with them. It's a very difficult place to get the kind of formation we've come to expect this year. Based on the nature of the track, they form up about Turn 12, because Turns 8 through 12 are difficult to go side-by-side. From there, we have three right-hand turns before start/finish.
In terms of the way (Scott) Dixon controlled the field as I asked at the driver's meeting, the way the remainder of the field paired up to that acceleration point, I thought it was fine.
One thing was different – I had to take these starts/restarts under my control, because there was no line of sight for the starter (Paul Blevin) from his vantage point. I was calling those myself on the radio. I saw the form-up, the acceleration, and I have no problem with any of them.