Track limits at Austin: where is the line?

Motorsport.com's Covy Moore is concerned the lack of track limit rules at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race at COTA will have a negative effect on the sport, if not enforced.

Track limits at Austin: where is the line?
#01 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford/Riley: Scott Pruett, Joey Hand
#70 SpeedSource Mazda Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez
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#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy
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#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy
#70 SpeedSource Mazda Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez
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#97 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4: Michael Marsal, Markus Palttala
#80 Lone Star Racing Dodge Viper GTR3: Dan Knox, Marc Goossens
#44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT America: John Potter, Andy Lally

The question of track limits has been a hot topic on the Formula 1 front for a couple weeks now, but despite the conversations across the pond, America has yet to catch on.

This past weekend’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event at Circuit of the Americas in Austin had a very odd look to it.

It had nothing to do with liveries or who won, but simply the amount of cars that found a faster way through certain turns by using the run-off areas as race track.

I admit that racing is all about finding the fastest lines on the track. Nick Tandy even reported to Motorsport.com that he was almost three seconds a lap faster in his TUDOR Porsche 911 than his WEC counterparts in their Porsche 911, who were forced to obey track limits or risk penalties.

But when those lines mean creating your own apex that sends your car through the paved run-offs, you are doing your sport a disservice.

Racing needs new viewers

As industries all over the world morph though time, the racing industry does too. The age of no sponsors and pay drivers is upon us. Some series are finding it hard to get butts in seats and eyes on television.

Personally, I feel most racing needs to cater to the layman. The old “keep it simple stupid” theory needs to be at the forefront of the officials responsible for the rule changes of our sport.

Keeping the sport simple will allow someone who has never even heard of Patrick Dempsey’s racing career the ability to sit down and watch a race and know what is going on.

Keep it simple, stupid

When I was younger, my grandmother joined myself and my father to watch one of the many NASCAR events we would watch on Sundays. The race was under caution when Granny showed up.

Granny was beside herself. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed.

My father and I jump up thinking there has been some terrible wreck under caution only to find out that Granny is baffled and concerned at the weaving of the cars under caution.

So that brings me back to the track limit question. What happened to all those people tuning in to their first race and saw what could be mistaken for a rallycross event at Austin?

If we sat Granny down to watch for a few minutes or even a lap onboard one of the cars, she might have just gotten up and walked away. I know I certainly didn’t want to try and explain it.

Safety vs. spectacle

Nothing about the competitors taking the advantageous line through the paved for safety run-off areas looks good. Racing is about finding that extra tenth in the grey areas of the rules, but I am strongly opposed to the horrendous-looking style of racing I saw at Austin.

I have to point out, especially to the layman, that the reason there is all that available pavement outside the confines of what is shown as the track limits is for safety. All too often when it is grass outside a turn and a car makes a mistake and spins, the car simply doesn’t slow enough before an impact with barriers.

Then there is the question of the kerbing. Bigger kerbs could help make drivers not want to run their car off the track to gain that tenth if they risk breaking a splitter or something. But again, safety wins.

I know of a couple drivers who have found themselves flying through the air because of the heightened “sausage kerbs” at both temporary street courses and the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.

Austin’s track kerbing is mainly flat because of the track's ability to host motorcycle racing.

Penalties are not the answer

The easy answer is to have sanctioning bodies take action, or hand out penalties to cars who exploit the track limits. But we all know that gets messy as well.

So what is the answer? Personally, I feel that grass into gravel run-offs are the most punishing to a driver pushing the limits of the track. But not necessarily the safest option. And what about the amount, and length, of safety cars to retrieve beached machinery?

No matter how Formula 1 or TUSC responds, this weekend’s race at COTA looked silly and something needs to be done.

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