Rubens Barrichello at St Petersburg - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
In the IZOD IndyCar Series, the rules they are a-changing.
With Beaux Barfield, president of competition, race director and chief steward for the series defining what occurs on each of the 16 race tracks visited by the series in 2012, there have been fewer cautions, shorter caution periods and more equitable decisions made as to what's blocking and what's racing.
Now Barfield has new ideas for pit road entries during caution periods. In the past, pit road has been closed to all competitors until they're lined up in processional order prior to being permitted entry. This has caused commotion on the pit roads and has caused errors by pit crews. With the new Dallara DW12 chassis that has near-covered rear wheels, precision is paramount in executing a proper pit stop.
There have been many times in the initial two races where crew members have been unable to affix wheels to the spindle, making for slower pit stops and loss of track position. See Scott Dixon, second in both contests due to slow stops, particularly at Barber Motorsports Park two weeks ago.
Henceforth, pit road will be open from the outset of any non-emergency full-course caution on road and street courses, beginning with this weekend's 38th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The rule will remain in effect through the end of the year. In addition, lapped traffic will be moved to the rear of the field during any restarts within the final 20 laps of road/street course races.
"The pits have historically been closed during full-course yellows to make sure that not only the field is under control but in order before opening the pits," said Barfield, also the IZOD IndyCar Series race director. "As such, it leads to this rush when all 26 cars come in at the same time. It can be exciting but it definitely is a contributing factor to some of the pit lane issues that we've had in the recent past."
In the first two races, full-course cautions were only called once Barfield knew where the leaders were and made sure there was no disadvantage posed by throwing those flags. "I've delayed the call of the full-course cautions during the first two races, being cognizant of where the leader is and the possibility of disadvantaging the leader and other cars in the field that have legitimate gaps over the cars behind them if that yellow is too early," he remarked.
"First and foremost, it can only be called in a non-emergency situation when the driver is not in immediate danger so you can wait half a lap to make sure you've given everybody a chance to pit before you call the full-course yellow," Barfield continued. "A pits-open full-course yellow would be similar so you give the leader the first chance to pit when you've made the announcement. It probably puts slightly less emphasis on pit work or allows people to maintain that advantage where they might be able to make more adjustments in the pits."
INDYCAR will now deploy the safety car to pick up the next competitor - either one that remains on the track or comes out of the pits - until the restart after a full-course caution. "It keeps the field organized in such a way that there's no reorder when we go bcd to green and it potentially shortens the yellows," Barfield explained. "Considering we've had three- and four-lap yellows already this year, which I'm happy with, this will allow for yellows as short as two laps."
In the final 20 laps, Barfield wants to see lead lap cars continuing to race to the checkers and will place lapped cars behind lead-lap cars at any restart during that time frame. "That keeps everybody up front racing for position and keeps the race interesting to the end," he said.
Barfield also threw a bone to new IZOD IndyCar Series racer Rubens Barrichello, allowing him some rookie benefits without actually being named a rookie. The most experienced Formula One driver in history has had his status reevaluated, "based on a team request," according to Barfield.
As he enters this weekend's third race of the year, "(Barrichello) will be allowed to participate in the first 30 minutes of the first practice session and he also gets an extra set of tires," Barfield said. "So that's a benefit. Street circuits that can be quirky and difficult to learn; he has the benefit of that extra set of tires and the extra 30 minutes of practice to learn the track quickly and get down to business."
Barfield did allow that he won't give this same privilege to the Brazilian at Infineon Raceway Sears Point in August because Barrichello has tested twice at the circuit with his KV Racing Technology team that runs a Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone package; the non-rookie status will apply for any other track where Barrichello tests prior to racing.
The 19-year F1 veteran, who turns 40 this May, will participate in a rookie oval test on May 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, just one day before an IZOD IndyCar Series open test on the 1.5-mile high banked oval. He also gets to participate in Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to open practice for the 96th Indianapolis 500.