Who knew there would be so much angst over a piece of red fabric. The red flag flew on Saturday and Sunday at the Honda Indy Toronto multiple times amidst accusations, confusions, rain, wrecks, and A.J. Foyt sarcasm. It was the current incarnation of IndyCar at its finest.
Red Flag #1: The first attempt at a start on Saturday was simply cars taking a few laps to determine that there was too much spray. The standing start was aborted and the red flag flew. So far, so good, other than the fact the fans have been led to believe that the series really does race in the rain. Keep in mind that it was not a deluge, just steady wetness. Big question: Is the Firestone rain tire a true full rain tire or is it simply an intermediate tire masquerading as a full rain tire? Just asking. Does it design create the spray seen at Toronto or does it mitigate it? Again, just asking.
Red Flag #2: Another attempt is aborted when Ryan Briscoe sticks his nose into the tires. The question arises again: Are the Firestone rain tires really full rain tires? You might even ask about the tires on the Honda Accord safety car* since Arie Luyendyk took it for a slow spin going into Turn 3 on the next lap. Apparently, it had slicks for better grip. Oops. Finally, a start kind of took place with Will Power tagging the wall. This led to many people seeing red.
The rules are clear: you cannot work on a car under red flag conditions. After Will Power’s wreck, Team Penske took the car behind the wall and began repairs. Other teams, according to Michael Andretti, were apparently prevented from working on their cars on pit lane. What’s the rule? According to Race Control, the race never started, so repairs could be made. A.J. Foyt used sarcasm as opposed to profanity to question this by saying he’s not too old to learn new rules. Classic stuff.
Red Flag #3: This is a metaphorical red flag. It was not waved but is there nonetheless. Toronto exposed a communication issue between the teams and Race Control. This is not to say that the race should have been run on Saturday, or that the teams should or should not have been able to work on their cars. The truth is most fans don’t care. The red flag here is that teams seemingly did not know what the hell was going on. A paddock is a loose society of equals. When one team is seen to be given a boon or an exception to rules, everyone else will be angry and loud. That is when the nit-picking, accusations, and sarcasm finds its way onto the TV and into the paper.
Red Flag #4: Once again, this is a metaphorical red flag. Who is in charge of the message at the Verizon IndyCar Series? Certainly Derrick Walker is in charge of the message to the teams (see above). Beaux Barfield and his team are in charge of the in-race calls, but Walker is in charge of quelling any insurrections resulting from these calls. The anger in the pits made good TV, but it did not make the series look like it had control of the situation.
Who is in charge of the message Derrick Walker sends when he gives an impromptu press conference explaining the red flags, the rain, and the reasons behind the decisions? In his interview Saturday, it seemed like he was speaking in tongues; it sounded like it made sense, but it really didn’t. At what point is someone from C.J. O’Donnell’s shop in charge of messages that emanate from the series? Just wondering if the new regime at Hulman Motorsports/IndyCar is still staking out turf.
Red Flag #5: Real red flag this time. In race one on Sunday morning, a pile-up on the first lap brought the field to a stop. Good call since the track was blocked and much clean-up was required. Teams were not allowed to work on cars this time since the race had actually started, so the red flag rules were followed, but Dale Coyne, the master of the rulebook, found a loophole. A team working on its car can be penalized a minimum of 20 seconds. Robin Miller, pit lane reporter/activist/consultant/pot-stirrer, relayed Coyne’s info to Sara Fisher, who decided to take the penalty and use the time to repair Josef Newgarden’s car. It was a great call as Newgarden advanced to challenge for a top ten finish until a burst of optimism put him off at Turn 3. The official IndyCar box score shows a drive-through penalty for the 67 for “entering a closed pit,” so I’m not sure whether to believe my eyes or the box score. In any case, a red flag win for SFHR.
Red Flag #6: Once again, this was a real red flag. Race Control chose to throw the red flag on lap 51 of what was a timed race. The red enabled the series to stop the clock. Yes, I said stop the clock on a timed race. No problem here with the decision, but teams who were on tire strategies that had them in the lead, such as Dale Coyne Racing with Justin Wilson, certainly had their strategies changed by IndyCar finessing the rulebook to ensure a chance at a green flag finish. If red flags at the end of races are going to be used to create a green flag finish, then the rule needs to be codified and propagated. When the series appears to make up rules as it goes, that perception becomes the de facto reality.
The two races at the Honda Indy Toronto once again had small teams on the podium with KV Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Mike Conway hoisting the champions’ trophies. That’s green flag all the way in my book. But I have to wave my own red flag at the Verizon IndyCar Series for “failure to communicate with the real race control.” And all the fans who buy the tickets handle the TV remotes are the real race control.
* Okay, before people knee-jerk about whether it’s a “pace car” or a “safety car,” let me explain. At the Indy 500, it’s an “official pace car.” People pay to have their car called that. It’s a big deal. In the rule book, the term is “safety car.” Technically, even at the Indy 500, it’s a “safety car.” I don’t know. I just write what seems correct at the time.