IndyCar needs more focus on standing starts (Update)

UPDATE RACER Magazine spoke with IndyCar President of Competition Derrick Walker to get answers for some of the most pressing questions that posed below (as well as in this rumor about a glitch in the anti-stall system) the day after the GP of Indy race, starting with Saavedra's starting line incident, which the young Colombian attributed to a failure of the anti-stall system when he attempted to launch from the grid.

After reviewing the data from Saavedra's car, Walker and his technical staff found multiple root causes to the No. 17's stall.

"We looked at all the data because we wanted to know," he said. "There's no doubt the system that we have is not perfect, is not consistent enough to do what we need it to do. Could Sebastian have done something different to make it work? Yeah, I think his actions contributed to that. But to put it all on his shoulders is unfair, because I think all of us would recognize that the manufacturers and the system itself needs to be a lot better.

"It has to be foolproof, it has to be idiot-proof so even someone like me could use it successfully, and that would be the system that you would want because the consequences of these systems, being as inconsistent as they can be, is catastrophic, as we saw."

The series has taken some heat for the wonky nature of the spec anti-stall systems found on the Dallara DW12 chassis, but it's worth nothing that 21 of the 23 drivers/cars on the GP of Indy grid did not stall. Along with seeking improvements to the anti-stall systems, the series is also looking at other areas that can be improved with its standing start procedures.

Drivers perform the equivalent of standing starts every time they leave their pit stalls, and also do practice starts at the end of pit lane, but the track surface in the pits rarely matches the track surface where the race starts take place. Look for IndyCar to give drivers a chance to practice starts from their grid positions in the future.

"Could we have, in hindsight allowed them time in the morning to physically go out and practice in the exact locations of where they stopped?" Walker asked. "Could we have made a session available to them in hindsight? We could have and we should have. Because if you do a standing start in pit lane or concrete and you go out on the tarmac on the spot and you do the same launch, you will have to adjust because obviously the grip levels. So we need to look at that too. So there's enough work to go around that includes more than just the [anti-stall] system."

Closing out the anti-stall topic, IndyCar mandated the system's activation on each car for the 2014 season; from 2012-'13, it was an elective item for manufacturers to enable.

"The anti-stall thing has been one of those things that, if you really ask the manufacturers how much work they really put into their anti-stall, I don't think it's as much as we could have wanted," said Walker. "For obvious reasons, they're driven to performance, not how to prevent stalls with their engine. But then again, if you stall your engine and you don't finish a race, it is an important part. So again, we are going to be looking at that and if we could make changes before Detroit we certainly will."

Each car is equipped with an in-cockpit yellow light system that Race Control triggers when a caution period happens. Asked if IndyCar could either use that system to let drivers know a stall has happened, or if another, dedicated cockpit alert light could be added for standing starts, Walker wasn't sure if it would be a cure-all to keep the Munoz's and Aleshin's from hitting a stalled car, but said it worth investigating.

"It's not simply about giving them lights, or a one-item way of making everything better," he said. "I know that's not what you are implying, and it's something we'll look into, but if you look as we are looking at, what happened? How could we have prevented it? Why would the team not put a spotter on the roof? Why wouldn't they? Previously, they were allowed on the other side of the building to watch where most of the racetrack is. But this time we said you're allowed on the front for that very reason. And the guy who was last, who had all the time in the world to slow down, nobody was going to run into him, he was the last guy on top of them.

"And so, you look at the team and you say, well, the short answer is the cockpit warning light could be a way to help, but moreover, we need to have a number of fail-safes in place so if one doesn't do the job, we have two or three that will reduce the chances of this kind of crash happening again."

Walker also expects to add more distance between grid spots next year at Indy.

"We've got the FIA spacing but, if you look at what we did at Long Beach – because we had the room – we actually spaced them even more," he added. "And that was the spacing that we need. Here, we didn't have the room to do it because we're stuck with the start and finish line so you back it up, we didn't have the room. There's isn't a lot more we can go without moving the rear cars into [oval] Turn 1, but we'll do all we can to give drivers more room."

Flying debris not only hit people standing next to the grid, but also went high enough to strike folks in the starter's stand. Of the logical improvements for 2015, expect to see the pit wall lined with debris fencing as seen at Formula 1 and MotoGP events.

"Certainly, a debris fence, a tall-enough one, is needed," Walker confirmed.

05/11/14 In reviewing a replay of the start accident yesterday for the GP of Indianapolis, three concerns come to mind.

1) IndyCar has no debris fence on top of the pitwall at Indy like proper road courses have! Crazy to see people standing around there behind the low wall during the start, including the flag marshals! Safety standards are really poor. If FIA officials watched the start they for sure thought that they are "in the wrong decade." If they do not want to install temporary debris fencing then no one should be standing there for the start. They should station a flag man across from each car on the outside of the track. They should have a yellow flag that they can immediately wave thru a slot in the fencing if a car stalls. And if a car stalls race control should be able to turn on yellow flashing lights on the drivers wheel/dash immediately. They used to have such as system when any yellow flew.

2) The flag marshal beside Saavedra’s car started to wave the yellow flag only very very late and also very bad. Wasn't he aware of what to do or didn't he get the right command in time from race control as Charlie Whiting would immediately do so in F1?

3) They did not have a morning warm-up. Why? All IndyCar road races have morning warm-up. Is Indy special? It should be mandatory that drivers do at least one (or more) standing starts in the morning warm-up and it would be best they do it on the main straight so the driver understands the friction of the asphalt. Funny asked Saavedra after qualifying (in the press conference – see transcript) if he was concerned about the way the asphalt is ground on the front straight at Indy. He said he thought it should provide more friction. Guess what? Maybe it was too much for the revs he had. He dumped the clutch at the start and the engine died. And what a mess we had.

All involved parties have to train for standing starts from all perspectives, otherwise much worse things will happen in the future.

This advice is offered free of charge to IndyCar.

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