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The conservation of energy in IndyCar

It’s good to see IndyCar teams working so hard on being green.  After all, it’s important that all racing series commit to conservation, recycling, renewal, and whatever else puts a smiley face on the critics of auto racing who decry motorsports as models of conspicuous consumption¹.  At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the employees picking up litter and emptying trash cans wear green (!) bibs that proudly proclaim “Ecology” as their department.  I’m sure that title makes picking up the detritus of race fans so much more appealing.  IndyCar has even added laps to races in an effort to conserve energy.

In 2013, IndyCar added laps at St. Pete, Milwaukee, and Mid-Ohio to discourage the use of fuel conservation from the beginning of the race.  It seems fans actually prefer to watch cars pass each other for position on-track.  Since a race like the Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio normally calls for three pit stops to get to the finish, basic high school math proved to teams that if you slowed down and used less fuel, then you could finish the race on two stops.  That seems like a sure-fire way to win a race, so why don’t all the teams do it?  If going slower not only saves energy, thus making a series greener, but also enables a car to make fewer stops, it would seem to be the only choice for a politically correct and ecologically sustainable series.

Apparently, a high school math story problem, pit stop deltas, and yellow flags are the monkey wrenches that get tossed into the works here.  A team conserving energy (saving fuel) to limit the number of pit stops by going slower allows teams who are not conserving energy (saving fuel) to go like hell, thus increasing the lead for these energy wasting, planet hating drivers and teams.  Here is where the term “pit stop delta” gets thrown around by really smart guys like Jon Beekhuis.  The pit stop delta is simply the time it takes to enter the pits, stop, and re-enter the track.

It is the fervent hope of our green, planet loving drivers and teams saving fuel that they do not fall so far behind the energy wasting, planet hating teams and drivers that the time behind the leaders plus the delta for them to make two pit stops is more than the delta for the energy wasters to make three stops.  The problem is how far behind the energy savers fall while they are trying to save fuel.  That time behind the go-like-hell leaders is the all-important variable in our high school story problem.  If an energy saving car goes too slow, it falls so far behind the leaders that two pit stops cannot make up the difference.  That is what happened at Mid Ohio.

Both Penkse Racing’s Will Power and Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti played the environmental card and went slow to save energy.  They hoped for one wild card to be played during the race: a yellow flag.  That is the other variable in the strategy to save the earth and win races.  When yellow flags happen, it not only bunches up the field, it allows the noble energy conservers to save even more energy.  The result is to let them drive like hell later because they saved even more fuel.  Unless, of course, a race is run with no yellow flags, which is what happened at Mid Ohio for the second year in a row.  The perfect scenario is for a yellow to fall after the savers have taken their second pit stop and before the users have taken their third pit stop.  The result of that is a fuel saver becoming the leader.  Power and Franchitti could not save enough fuel to race hard at the end.  And part of that is because the IZOD IndyCar Series added five extra laps to the race.  The result of those added laps was the fuel savers had to go even slower during the race to save fuel to use a two stop strategy while the three stoppers could continue to go like hell.  The earth hating Charlie Kimball decided to go like hell and waste our precious resources to win the Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio.  Shame on you, Charlie!

So hats off to the earth loving fuel savers!  Like tree hugging conservationists everywhere, you fought the good fight only to become the victims of the rampant and thoughtless exploitation of our precious fossil fuels.  We can only hope that in the future, IndyCar will lengthen the distances of all races while limiting the number of pit stops.  Then we will have a series that can proudly claim to be the best at using the least.

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1.  The term “conspicuous consumption” was coined by Thorstein Veblen in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class.  I footnoted it for two reasons.  One is to use the name Thorstein Veblen.  I considered it as a Twitter handle, but it was already taken.  The second is because his theories of leisure class, consumption, and technocrats are still viable today.  Don’t read the book.  Just check out this Wikipedia page.

Ten Worthless Opinions: Honda Indy Toronto Poutine Edition

IndyCar had quite the time in Toronto.  Border security, rules interpretation, feuds, and Scott Dixon’s domination mixed together in a doubleheader race format to provide a highly entertaining  weekend.  In other words, the IZOD IndyCar Series is sometimes just a blogger’s dream.  So grab your poutine (fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds) and settle in for that other messy treat that is “Ten Worthless Opinions.”

1.  There are so many interesting/entertaining/puzzling storylines to the weekend, I truly don’t know where to start.  Let’s go ahead with what was the big interest going into the weekend: standing starts.  The IndyCar series has a knack for taking the big story and fumbling it like Sebastien Bourdais did his runner-up trophy after Saturday’s race.  Standing starts are a big deal only because IndyCar has for years been unable to have competent two-wide starts due to driver gamesmanship and officials unwillingness/inability to enforce a standard for rolling starts.  The only reason to use a standing start to spice up the beginning of the race is because the normal rolling starts are so brutally ugly.

2.  The standing start concept did, however, generate interest, which makes the fumbling on Saturday even more egregious.   I have no problems with IndyCar using standing starts.  My problem is the seemingly amateurish handling of the concept.  The drivers and team principals are allowed to publicly question/ridicule the choice of starts.  That’s the way to build a brand, if your brand is churlishness.  The fumbling occurred when the officials decided to abort the standing start when Josef Newgarden had an issue.  And I’m OK with that choice.  What leaves me rolling my eyes is how IndyCar did not make clear to its on-site and TV audience what the rules for using or not using the standing start were.  I’m pretty sure if IndyCar handed a list of the standing start rules to NBC Sports and said,”You might want to make a graphic of this for your booth and your audience,” they would have done it.  And NBC Sports is not off the hook.  How could they not request/demand the rules in a production meeting?  Picture the fans at the venue and the hundreds watching on television with their palms up saying, “What the hell’s going on?”  Be prepared to tell the story.

3.  Loved the NBC Sports booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and Steve Matchett.  Matchett in particular brought enthusiasm and insight to his first foray into IndyCar.  He watched it like a well-informed fan.  Bell continues to be smooth, and his low-key delivery is a nice contrast to Diffey’s exuberance.  Jon Beekhuis excels at giving technical information, this week explaining how the clutch works in a standing start.  NBC Sports broadcast shames ABC, which seems to simply go through the motions.

4.  I did question how NBC Sports handled the Dario Franchitti/Will Power contretemps, though.  After Franchitti blocked/held his line against Power’s aggressive/optimistic/stupid move in turn three, there was a great opportunity to build a feud between members of the two dominant teams in the series.  How did NBC Sports handle it?  They had the two talk it out on the Sunday broadcast with Robin Miller, the same Robin Miller who says, “Hate is good.”  What a let-down.  Where’s the shit-stirring Marty Snyder when you need him?

5.  The racing was great.  And that’s not just shilling.  Other than Scott Dixon absolutely checking out on Sunday, cars were passing and being passed on both days.  Scott Dixon may be rather vanilla when it comes to personality, but what a racer.  He did not put a wheel wrong all weekend.  Speaking of Ganassi Racing, the in-race and post-race comments of Mike Hull are always informative, even when he is being sly about strategy.  Chip Ganassi was at his well-behaved best in the post-race interviews, even welcoming Dragon Racing’s Jay Penske to the rich guys’ club.  His feigned magnanimity chafes me since his normal demeanor is peevish and irascible.  Leopards and spots, you know.

6.  I wonder if we will ever hear the full story of IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield and his border bang-up?  Was he smuggling Cuban cigars into Canada?  I mean, who doesn’t like a good Cuban to smoke after dinner?  Was his passport not up-to-date?  That happens to the best of us.  The truth is probably mundane, but I would love to know.  Until then, I will just make it worse by offering conjecture and innuendo, as a reputable blogger should.  Of more concern is Derrick Walker’s seemingly less-than-enthusiastic support of Barfield in Jenna Fryer’s recent AP story.  Beaux had relatively free rein under former boss Randy Bernard.  My guess is life is different under the dominion of Walker.  Keep your eye on this relationship.

7.  Let’s talk about rules!  In race one, the rule was that two wheels had to be in contact with the racing surface at all times to keep the drivers from curb jumping.  IndyCar gave warnings for violations and then rescinded the rule during the race Saturday when the drivers continued to jump the curbs.  I imagine the conversation going something like this:

  • Race Control: “Stop jumping the curbs!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Stop it!”
  • Drivers: “No!”
  • Race Control: “Never mind.”

8.  More rules interpretation.

  • Race Control: “Dario Franchitti, you blocked Will Power!”
  • Franchitti: “No, I didn’t!”
  • Race control: “Yes, you did!”
  • Franchitti:  “I’m getting my dad!”
  • Race control: “Never mind.”

9.  Even more rules interpretation.

  • Race Control:  “You will do standing starts/double-file restarts/two laps on red tires.”
  • Drivers: “No.”
  • Race Control: “OK.”

10.  OK, that last was a cheap shot.  The drivers and teams knew about the rules for aborting the standing start, the change from double-file to single-file restarts, and the codicil permitting a change of tires without using them for two laps.  The people who did not always know were the broadcasters and the fans.  And since IndyCar is trying to engage the fans, it might consider keeping them informed.  Just a suggestion.  One more: when announcing rules interpretations to the audience, IndyCar might want to include the phrase, “Pursuant to Rule #…”  That would certainly have helped the NBC Sports crew give the audience the facts instead leaving both the booth and the fans twisting in the wind.

There you go, my WO’s (worthless opinions) for Toronto.  Now if you will excuse me, I have to get these poutine stains out of my shorts.  The stuff really is messy.

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