The race at Barber Motorsports Park turned into an exciting one with a dramatic start to the race and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves running each other hard at the end. However, lost in the race was two rules that had an effect on the outcome of the event.
Qualifying Procedure and Blocking
IndyCar qualifying procedure has the drivers go out into groups, in which slowly trickles down into the Firestone Fast Six. With multiple drivers on the track, sometimes they can cross paths with each other, messing up each other’s laps. If done deliberately, officials have the option to penalize the driver who blocked.
Takuma Sato was removed from the Firestone Fast Six after his penalty for blocking Justin Wilson.
However, another driver was accused of blocking, though not penalized. James Hinchcliffe accused Will Power of blocking his lap.
“It is a frustrating situation,” Hinchcliffe said. “I saw Will in front of me … he caught another driver (E.J. Viso) so he had to back off and that’s fair play. But he backed off again and had a gap with no one in front of him. I know exactly what he was doing. And it is just a joke.
“Tires only last for two laps and my second lap was sacrificed as a result. With the times this close all I needed was a tenth to get into Q2. It disappointing that guys are out there playing these games but it’s a long season and that will come back and bite him.”
Power said that Hinchcliffe was wrong in his accusation.
“I don’t think I blocked him, actually,” Power said. “Viso checked me up. Those guys checked up in front of me. Yeah, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Blocking? Have to take a look at the video. He’s just whining because he didn’t get through, I think.”
This begs to ask the question – should there be a change in procedure so that way officials don’t have to make these judgement calls? Should drivers be sent out individually for a couple of laps and then started in the order they lap the track?
With starting position being so important, you would think that it would be the option of choice. However, all that does is lengthen the session and remove the excitement that is unique to qualifying trim.
Qualifying Procedure and Quick Time
The other element of qualifying that can be interesting to watch is a driver may set the quickest time of the session, but doesn’t get the pole. So what does that mean? Scott Dixon had the quickest time of the test session at Barber Motorports Park during session two, however would not get the pole as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power were timed fastest in the Firestone Fast Six. Meanwhile, Dixon would have to start behind them as a result of a slower time during that final session.
Should be there a change in the format to honor the driver that has the quickest lap?
One idea could be to keep the format as it is for qualifying, but change it so the driver with the quickest time would get the pole. Your quick time carries you through the sessions and if you manage to improve upon it in a later session, then that is the time used to determine starting position. Kind of like you can work to improve your time, but won’t lose the hard work done at the beginning.
Or, as previously suggested, change the format completely so the drivers go out one at a lap time with quick time taking the pole.
Race Procedure and bringing drivers to the pits
While the focus was on the top finishers in the race, there was also questions asked about James Hinchcliffe’s day.
Hinchcliffe sustained damage on the first lap incident, which caused one of the tires to fall off under caution. Series officials began to toe Hinchcliffe back, however stopped and said they would try under the next yellow, not wanting to cause further damage.
“At the same time we were getting ready to go green as the track was clear so Race Control made the decision to leave the No. 27 car, and try to bring it back during the next yellow, which never happened,” IndyCar said.
As IndyCar stated, a second yellow never happened, which meant Hinchcliffe was stuck out, sitting in the corner, for the entire race.
“It was just shockingly painful and frustrating, because we were only four corners from pit lane,” Hinchliffe said. “I mean, I could almost see pit lane. And you’re watching everybody else just palling around and having a great time. You never want to watching, especially when you’re sitting in a car right beside the race track watching.”
This isn’t the first time this has happened to a driver as Scott Dixon had it happen to him last year at Long Beach.
“The rules state, they will tow you back till the last 10 laps of the race, so I don’t know what the deal is with that,” Dixon said. “I know I was (mad) when that happened to me, and Hinch should be as well. There’s a whole lot of the race to go. I thought they were going to tow him back, but we already had a yellow … I think they get worried about these yellows being too long.”
If they’d extended the caution at least a lap, maybe even two, they could have brought Hinchcliffe to the pits and allowed his team to repair the damage so he could go back out and race.
While this may not be something to dwell on, here’s a question to ask – what if the points lost here are what cost Hinchcliffe the championship?
With questions amongst the rules, they become the focus and fans will begin to discuss them, rather than the drivers and the competition. That is not something the series needs. The series needs consistency amongst the rules and focus on what matters – drivers and competition – if they want to remain in the forefront.