Could some of the rules and procedures being used by the IndyCar Series be improved to reduce contact and increase consistency? IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker is asking himself those questions and a few others after back-to-back events that will be remembered more for the spins, crashes and arguments than the racing that took place.
“The answers to a lot of the issues that came out of the last race seem indicate that some of our rules might be unsuited to some of the tracks that we're racing on,” said Walker. “When you go and put guys double-file into the bumpy corner at Turn 1 at Baltimore, I don't know how they ever get through there without knocking into each other. So could that be something to reconsider? Absolutely. I don't know why anyone would be surprised when that bumping and hitting happens there, and because the series is so competitive right now, people are really pushing hard and leaving no margin for each other.”
The selective use of double-file starts and restarts would be a smart adjustment for the series to make based on track configuration and historical trends, and in hindsight, could have stemmed some of the five- and six-car pileups that took place on Sunday.
Among those incidents in Turn 1 (and the hairpin at Turn 3), some drivers were penalized for avoidable contact while others went unpunished for what appeared to be the same exact moves. A call by Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, among others, for more consistent application of the rules is another topic Walker is delving into.
“Some of the rules are rather ambivalent and should be looked at and evaluated to re-clarify what kind of (on-track) behavior we expect from our drivers,” he continued. “And we also need to look at our own procedures to make sure we're as consistent as we ask them to be. I think there's some work to be done on both sides.
“We are doing internal reviews after the events and looking at them in great detail to see what actually happened while in the calm and cool of an office setting. To see if we made the right choices, if we communicated those choices in the right way, and to be frank about what we see, good or bad.”
Walker, who read Dixon's critical statements about Race Director Beaux Barfield, shared two different views on whether the series should use its rulebook to rein in its drivers when a situation arises.
“Personally, my own opinion, I don't like to put a gag order on people,” he said. “If a guy feels strongly about something, I don't think he should be stopped from saying it. But if I put my IndyCar hat on…if I'm an IndyCar fan and I keep hearing all of these star drivers say the series is junk and the officials are stupid, I'm not sure it's worth spending my money to go see the series if the big names are saying we're garbage.
“So I'm not saying you aren't entitled to say your remarks, but if you want to earn a living in this series, you can't kick it in the head one day and then go reap the fruits of what it can give you the next. So I do think there's some responsibility to look after the sport where you and many others make their living here.”
Based on what took place during a previously unrevealed pre-race meeting Walker held with the championship leaders and their teammates, he says the crash between Dixon and Will Power and Dixon's post-race comments contravened his instructions.
“I was surprised by Scott's comments; he's always been one of the most level-headed guys, and one of the most professional,” Walker added. “Even more surprising was before the race, I sat the Ganassi and Penske drivers down and asked them to not give me a reason to penalize them with the championship in full swing. I asked them to go race and not to let emotions or actions after the pit situation in Sonoma enter into Baltimore or the rest of the races.
“And so I said: 'Look, this is about being fair and racing fairly – don't impede each other.' I also said it does no good to go around saying we're all a bunch of Muppets. There's a bigger picture here to consider. So we go race, everything happens as it happens, and then it seems nothing I said to them before seemed to matter. I can understand what happened there (with Power unintentionally crashing into Dixon), but then all the chatter starts about the series and Beaux afterward.”
Walker stopped short of saying how he'd handle the outbursts aimed at the series, but did make it clear that going forward, direct communication would be the best choice to make.
“Dixon's got to stop shooting his mouth off, or Mike Hull, or Tim Cindric, or anybody else that feels we'll just accept any kind of words and will sit back and do nothing about it,” he affirmed. “If you feel the need to express your freedom of speech, I'm here to tell you those kinds of comments won't be free. I'm not here trying to threaten anybody, but I am saying we have to be responsible.
“I do believe that people can be passionate about what they're saying, and if Scott Dixon wants to have a go at us, I respect the guy and will listen to his concerns and try to address them. But as I told him and the other guys before the race, they'll have a lot more impact by coming into my office and telling me directly to my face than doing it on TV or whatever and telling all the fans you think we're all incompetent.”