The Rusty Wheel Gets the Grease

Posted by Iannucci | 1/25/2007 | 2 comments »
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This week the Indy Racing League announced several “technical and administrative rule changes” for the upcoming season, of which many related to the switch to running all cars on 100% fuel-grade Ethanol. Larger engines running at lower RPMs will result in better mileage, and consequently the fuel cell will be reduced to 22 gallons. (Unfortunately for Dan Wheldon, there didn’t appear to be any increase in the length of the hose used to fill up the fuel cell.)

Also, the league has decided they will deem who is a rookie and who is not. I’m going out on a limb here, but this is probably to make sure Marty Roth has extra orientation at any event he decides to participate.

There are other changes as well, but the one that jumped out at me was this one: ** Final practice sessions have been eliminated at all oval events but in order to maintain on-track time pre-qualifying sessions have been extended by 15 minutes.

I read that and I thought of one man: No, not Paul Dana – I’m talking about Russell William "Rusty" Wallace.

Although he spent all of one season following the IndyCar series Old No. 2 got the wish he bantered about all season long, which was to eliminate Final Practice on race day. I’m sure Dana’s tragic collision with Ed Carpenter at Homestead had some influence on this decision, as did Vitor Meira’s hello-and-how-do-you-do with Danica Patrick at Kentucky. I suppose teams were informally asked about the elimination of Final Practice on race day, but when it comes right down to it the catalyst was most likely Rusty’s rants.

Personally, I don’t care either way about final practice. Presumably it was created to allow teams to make last minute changes to cars based on changes in weather or time of day or moon cycles or whatever. It would stand to reason that if a team felt it wasn’t a good idea to practice just that much before a race then they wouldn’t be sending out their drivers. But they all did, which says there was at least some benefit towards competitive racing.

Consider the following quote from Sarah Fisher after starting and finishing in 16th at last season’s Chicagoland finale, where Final Practice was cancelled due to rain.

“We had a decent day in the end. The first third of the race we were really struggling in traffic. We were planning on doing all our in traffic stuff this morning. That was our plan for this morning’s warm-up. Not having that warm-up really hurt us. At the end of the race we were racing Tony Kannan and Bryan Herta; basically all the Andretti Green cars. In the end, not having the morning warm up really killed us. We had planned on working on our in-traffic stuff this morning. We ran some different pieces that made it a little harder for being in traffic. Overall, we did a really good job. We just needed that extra 30 minutes this morning.”
I know she’s just one driver, but her words underscore how important the extra time can be for teams not named Penske or Ganassi.
Sorry, Sarah, but now you get your warm-up on Friday or Saturday. Good luck with that!

If teams had come to Brian Barnhart and said “let’s get rid of this” then I have no problem with this announcement, but I’ve never noticed anyone – driver, owner, whoever – making a big deal out of this other than Wallace. His argument was built on the premise “we don’t have final practice in NASCAR”, which is a really silly comparison considering how many other practices they actually have in NASCAR. With 30-some races and 3 or 4 practice sessions each weekend, those tin tops get a lot more track time then an IndyCar does over the course of a year. All series are not created equal.

And as a fan, it’s equality that concerns me. As close as the final four drivers were in the championship standings going into last season’s conclusion, I doubt anyone wants to see those four so far ahead of everyone else in 2007. For the series to be more interesting other teams need to be able to elevate their level of competition, and one way of doing that is by allowing them sufficient time at the track to optimize their vehicles. This new rule seems to do just the opposite.

Maybe I’m totally off on this and it wasn’t just Rusty pushing for this and this rule change will prove to have little or no effect on competition in the future, but if this is indeed due to Wallace’s wailing then it’s really mind-boggling how someone with so little history or affiliation to the league can affect league policy.

I guess we are all fortunate (for many reasons) there were no tragic accidents during the Month of May this year, or else Rusty would have pushed to condense that down to a weekend.

2 comments

  1. pressdog // January 25, 2007 1:59 PM  

    ethanol contains more energy then methanol, chief, hence the smaller fuel tank. No more honorary poles for Danica under the new rules which call for starting position to be determined by points if pole day is rained out, not by practice speeds.

  2. Jeff Iannucci // January 25, 2007 3:05 PM  

    This would explain why none of the teams has hired me as a technical expert.

    If I could get a guest post from John Barnes on this subject that would be most helpful.