Nineteen drivers and one key IndyCar Series official passed through the turnstiles at Tuesday’s IndyCar media day, held at Amway Center in Orlando. The quotes offered from the drivers can be fleshed out over the next couple weeks in the completion of winter testing and the run-up to the season opener in St. Petersburg.
What was the biggest news today though, came from IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, Derrick Walker. The Scot, an open-wheel veteran who begins his first full season on the job after taking over the post last June 1, announced plans to modernize and enhance IndyCar race control, which was occasionally in the cross hairs in 2013.
Walker hinted to MotorSportsTalk at the United States Grand Prix in Austin last November that changes would be coming to race control, although not personnel-related. He said in the races he saw from race control post-the Indianapolis 500, a couple things “seemed pretty obvious” in needing to be changed.
“We couldn’t always see what we needed to do for race control to be effective. It looked pretty obvious we needed to upgrade our equipment and needed to have more eyes on the job,” Walker told assembled reporters Tuesday.
And then came the c-word – consistency. It was a subject that caused controversy last year in the back-to-back races at Sonoma and Baltimore eventual series champion Scott Dixon retired due to contact with Will Power.
“In addition to that we needed more procedures and probably guidelines is the best way to describe it so that we were as consistent as often as possible. That was one of the shortcomings of race control,” said Walker.
“So for this year we’ve invested a tremendous amount in equipment so we have a lot more views and better-quality views, better replay, trying to capture all the views that are possible.”
This year will see equipment investment to better help race control see the race, and he also said he hopes by this time in 2015, a mobile race control unit will be established for transport to each race. Right now, INDYCAR is beholden to a certain location on each track where it sets up race control; it is not in one centralized unit.
Walker expanded on what equipment would be added for 2014.
“We’re talking a lot more flat screens, HD,” he said. “The reason for more of them is because we don’t always get all the views that the cameras around the track gets. We haven’t always got that. We’ve been caught out many times where we made a call and afterwards saw a different view that would make us think twice.”
Walker confirmed aero kits, the much-discussed, officially planned but not-yet-officially implemented add-ons made by manufacturers, are being worked on. But he didn’t anticipate seeing them until right before they’re officially launched.
Of this year’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying, the format and procedure is “very close” but not formal, yet.
He also took a subtle dig at NASCAR, when asked about giving Juan Pablo Montoya extra days of testing and if any NASCAR drivers (re: Kurt Busch) were going to be able to do an Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day double.
“We have to help those little taxicab boys come out and race real cars,” Walker deadpanned.
The other major bit of news announced was standing starts, confirmed for Long Beach (April 13, NBCSN) and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis (May 10). Long Beach was interested in one for 2013, but the technology hadn’t been proven yet. Successful standing starts were executed at Toronto’s second race, and Houston’s first race.
“Part of the problem with Long Beach, is getting the field coming round, getting all the field on the front straight, letting it loose,” Walker said. “It never works very well. If you do a standing start, I think it will be a much better start.”
Added Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach: “This is fantastic news for our fans. They will love hearing the sounds of the IndyCar engines revving up and then the cars roaring down Shoreline Drive. Thanks to IndyCar and especially to Derrick Walker for granting our request. This is a great addition to all of the other activities we have planned as we celebrate 40 years of racing in the streets of Long Beach.”