IndyCar to reassess driver probation rules in off-season

IndyCar president Jay Frye says he and the race stewards will examine the series’ current rules on driver probation at the end of the season, following recent questions over driver discipline.

IndyCar to reassess driver probation rules in off-season

In the inaugural race on the streets of Nashville, six of the nine penalties issued were a result of driver misdemeanors, while in Gateway, 27 of the 49 laps under caution were a direct result of car-to-car contact.

After that last race, six-time champion Scott Dixon said there was “erratic and crazy driving out there” which had gone “unnoticed” by Race Control, and winner Josef Newgarden said he concurred after climbing from 20th on the grid in the race on the IMS road course.

Asked if there was an increasing lack of discipline among IndyCar drivers, Frye told “If you look at the three-week stint we were on – Nashville, Indy road course and Gateway – Nashville was a street course, new event to everyone and one where obviously no one could test. It started out pretty sloppy, and then got better as the race went on.

“The Brickyard race was as good a straight-up race as you could hope for – just a couple of cautions and a lot of action during the race. And Gateway started off sloppy again but then got better.

“Partly it’s the time of the season – the intensity level goes up as we get down to where things are getting decided championship-wise. I think if we went back to Nashville tomorrow, it would be better even without us changing anything – and I’m not saying we’re not going to change anything for next year, to be clear. But I think there would be a different result because people would know what to expect.”

Asked what needed to be done to reduce the number of yellow-flag periods caused by overambitious drivers fouling their opponents, Frye said: “I think what we’re going to look at is the avoidable contact penalties. They have a pretty immediate effect most times, so if someone dumps someone and they’re able to continue, we give them a drive-through penalty. But there are instances where a driver doesn’t get a penalty because they’ve taken themselves out too. So there’s no immediate penalty.

“The issue we have right now is probation. The rulebook says that if you get two avoidable contacts in the space of three races, you get put on probation – and then it stops there. Well, what does probation mean? I think that’s something that needs to have a little more teeth in, and there needs to be a better understanding of what it means and the consequences. It’s something we’ll talk to the drivers about in the offseason. We’re gonna button that up.”

Three veteran drivers have suggested to that it may be a good idea to set harder rules more comprehensible to drivers and the viewing public regarding passing attempts up the inside. These have included a driver claiming a corner as ‘his’ based on how far along the flanks of the defending car he has managed to get his front wheels.

However, Frye appeared to retain more latitude for both drivers and stewards when judging wheel-to-wheel battles.

“We try to have a very consistent approach on [dicing] from the stewards’ perspective,” he said. “We want good hard clean racing. We want the drivers to race; we don’t want to be over-penalizing in Race Control – and I think people, the fans, appreciate that.

“Our job is to decide if an incident is the result of good hard racing or if it deserves a penalty. If an incident is deemed worthy of a penalty, then guidelines are very clear – most of them of a small-, medium- and large-type punitive nature, and the stewards choose which one they want to go with.”

Frye said that he, along with race director Kyle Novak and the stewards, former Indy car race-winners Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis, have encouraged the current drivers to be somewhat self-policing by interacting with each other.

“Right now we’ve got a great crop of young, aggressive drivers, and a great crop of veteran drivers who are still very, very good,” he said, “and it’s great to have these veteran guys able to talk to the young guys about what expectations are for an IndyCar driver on and off the track. Unfortunately you sometimes see the veteran drivers also do something that doesn’t make sense!

“But overall it’s good that we have this balance between the two groups. Sometimes when drivers come in to talk to us about an incident that they’re upset about, we’ll say, ‘Go talk to that driver’. We think it’s important that drivers are communicating with each other on what their expectations are. I think if you ask most drivers, they would say they race others how they want to be raced themselves. It’s when they cross over the line that we get involved.”

Frye emphasized that all those involved in governing the races keep notes of rules and procedures that might be deemed worthy of revamping or just tweaking at the end of every season.

“All this stuff – the probation, the avoidable contact and so on – gets reviewed in the offseason,” he said. “It has to, because circumstances can change and there’s times where we have to make alterations.

“We might look back at the season and think of incidents where we said, ‘Well we’ve never seen that before. We thought we’d seen everything and prepared for everything but that’s a new one!’ And so you have to decide how to deal with that the next time it happens, because it’s not necessarily in your rulebook but if it’s happened once, it could happen again.

“So at the end of the season we have a whole list of things to go through, and then we consult with drivers and team owners to see what issues they’ve noticed, and what we should consider changing or at least adjusting.”

Questions over start and restart procedures are also a regular occurrence, particularly when there are incidents, but also when the polesitter/leader at the restart appears to have gotten a major jump on his rivals. Frye conceded that those rules, too, will be re-examined at the end of the year.

“Yeah, there’s some things that are worth reviewing there, because there are approaches we’ve seen that are not necessarily what we’re looking for but might not currently be deemed illegal,” he said. “The spirit of what should be happening is not always happening, and we need to look at maybe clarifying that.

“I think at times the problems are caused by the procedure not being consistent, maybe because we’ve got different polesitters at the start, different leaders for the restarts. We want the procedures for both to be consistent whoever’s at the front.

“But honestly, sometimes the problem is that guys in the middle or at the back just decide to go wide open, when they had plenty of time to check up.”

Frye said that increasing the gaps between the rows for the starts wasn’t the solution because it would encourage drivers from the second row back to hit the throttle even sooner and “get a bigger run” on the cars ahead.

“There’s a cause and effect to everything. So I’m not saying we’ll definitely do something – maybe it’s just a case of reminding the drivers of the rules that are already in effect. But we’ll take a look at starts and restarts in the offseason and see if there’s a way to clean things up by making the rules clearer so that they can be followed by everyone who’s at the front.”


Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

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