IndyCar Series: Who's Ruling Who?

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IndyCar Series: Who's Ruling Who?

The photo is from an earlier day in the life of Helio Castroneves. That day was wrecked when his Dallara suffered a non-contact rear suspension failure. The "red shirts" are IRL officials interested in this event.

Before we discuss the cones and white lines on an airport runway in Edmonton, Canada, we need to take one more detour.

The following is an article written July 31, 2007. Unedited. 


PHILLIPS: White Line Fervor
Written by: David Phillips, RACER Magazine Pittsburgh, Pa. – 7/31/2007

As a general rule, the less referees, umpires and other officials are involved in a sport’s play-by-play action the better. What red-blooded American hasn’t uttered a few choice words during an NFL “laundry-fest,” when nary a play goes by without a penalty flag adorning the gridiron?

As another general rule, the less open any given rule is to interpretation – i.e. the more black and white it is – the better. What red-blooded American hasn’t uttered a few more choice words amid an “official” explanation of the NFL’s “tuck” or “in the grasp” rules that sounds like a legal brief?

Which is why Champ Car’s “white line” rule – inaugurated at Toronto and perfected in San Jose – is a thing of such beauty. Simply put, a white line is painted down the middle of the track on the approach to a prime overtaking point.

In Toronto, a driver at risk of being passed had to commit to one or the other side of the line entering Turn 3, thus giving his rival one clear passing lane. In San Jose the rule was modified to say, in effect, the “defending” driver had to stay to the left of the line, affording wannabe overtakers a fair chance to pass on the right (inside) at the claustrophobically tight Turn 1.

Although drivers running on their own were free to change lanes, anyone fighting for position was subject to a penalty if they crossed the line, as it were. In other words, no weaving, no blocking, no games of chicken at 185 mph.

The results were nothing short of miraculous. The Toronto race produced no fewer than eight lead changes. Obviously, rainy weather contributed to that number. Still, Will Power passed Ryan Dalziel, then Neel Jani in Turn 3 on his march to the front, while Jani also passed Dalziel there en route to the podium.

At San Jose the results were unequivocal. There were no less than four lead changes at Turn 1, first when Jani overtook Servia there on Lap 34, when Servia returned the favor on Lap 66, when Jani passed Robert 84 Doornbos on Lap and when the Dutchman took the lead for good on Lap 96. And that doesn’t count the time when Servia outbraked Jani on lap 65, only for the Swiss to reclaim the lead with a classic inside/outside move accelerating out of the corner. All this on a tight street circuit that had not produced a single “on track” pass for the lead in its first two iterations.

“If the rules are that you cannot block, at least it’s an easier way for the officials to police,” said Oriol Servia, who – immodestly but good-naturedly – took credit for the white line concept. “It’s black and white. You have to stay on the left side. It gives better racing.

“Like today we saw many overtaking (moves). I can assure you that if the rules would be like in Europe, you would not have seen one because you only have one shot of overtaking and you just block the guy behind – either both crash or there’s no overtaking.”

Three more factors contributed to the outbrake of overtaking at San Jose. Of course, the power-to-pass function on the Cosworth XFE helped put Doornbos, Jani and Servia get in position to make the passes. As well, Bridgestone’s alternate and standard tires afforded drivers slightly different performance. Finally, subtly repositioned concrete barriers on the entrance and exit of Turn 1 (courtesy of track consultant Chris Kneifel) also gave drivers a few more inches of room in which to operate than in the past.

Still, the white line rule appears to be a beautiful – a simply beautiful – stroke of genius. One can’t help but compare it with the proposition floated around F1 a few years ago that tracks install dedicated “passing lanes” at key corners to facilitate overtaking, and that drivers be allotted a limited number of uses of those passing lanes per race, rules that only former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue could have loved.

Let’s see . . . alternate and standard Bridgestone tires, power-to-pass, the white line rule. OK, the Palmer Audi series pioneered the power-to-pass concept, but Champ Car and Cosworth can rightly claim to “perfecting” it in a top echelon series. Champ Car may be not be perfect, but its rules makers, Bridgestone and Cosworth deserve a round of applause. Make that a standing ovation.


I'm just a guy like you, sitting at his computer and reading about IndyCar racing. If David Phillips, Oriol Servia, Brian Barnhart, Tony Cotman, or Robin Miller want to show me the proof that this article is materially false, I'll read that too.

And like you, I don't know who wrote that rule, or exactly how it differs from the rule that wrecked Helio Castroneves' day on Sunday in Edmonton. So I asked Robin Miller on his Facebook page yesterday—before I found the Phillips article above—if he could provide any more information about what Miller called a "terrible rule."

Andrew Bernstein: " So you can tell us that this "terrible rule" was written by Tony Cotman, for the entirely different circumstances of a street parade, right? And that even so, he still supported Brian Barnhart's enforcement of it 100 percent in this vastly different context?"

So far, Mr. Miller has not responded. The article above explains a lot more, although it really doesn't matter to me who wrote the rule or who saw fit for its adaptation and use by the IRL. Witch hunting is not in my job description. I'm asking for facts.

The point is, who didn't write the rule. I know that Brian Barnhart described a very similar set of stipulations to the drivers at Edmonton, and I know he enforced the rule on the IRL books to the letter on Sunday.

Does it matter to you who wrote the rule? When I read about the witch hunt that has begun for Brian Barnhart's head, and I read Robin Miller's article posted last night entitled "Time for TGBB To Go," then it does matter to me who wrote the rule, and who saw fit to include it in the responsibilities of the Senior Official to enforce at Edmonton.

"TGBB" is Miller's epithet for "The Great Brian Barnhart."


Tony Cotman from his Twitter account, NZRConsulting:

"Helio blocked and got penalized. A rule is a rule. It's black and white.

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