Driving assessment

Nashville chaos highlights IndyCar driving and officiating standards

The messaging chain between NTT IndyCar Series drivers kicked off early after the Nashville Grand Prix on Sunday. The pilots keep the finer points of these conversations private, but after the Nashville event, the heated opinions of those who received end-of-race blows, and questions of overly aggressive maneuvers among some members of the group and how some incidents that looked ripe for penalty kicks were given a bye, would have dominated the exchanges.

“I think the standards of driving have definitely gone down in an area where it’s wrecked or wrecked,” Conor Daly told RACER. “And I don’t think that’s IndyCar racing. I don’t like it because I grew up knowing I could race side-by-side with people in any car. The joy of racing IndyCar was the fact that you could race side by side with people, and there are still people you can. But I think with this current era of the car, it’s harder to pass. And you have to do a gesture aggressive enough to pass people.

Championship contender Marcus Ericsson agrees with Daly’s assessment and points out that the Nashville setup contributed to the peak contact at the event in its first two races.

“IndyCar racing, to me, is the best in the world, because it’s tough racing, there’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of wheel-to-wheel racing, and nobody wants that to go away. go,” he said. “What I think, though, is the way we’ve been doing the last two years, it’s getting a little too much, because some riders are starting to take advantage of certain situations. I think some riders are greedy and we have to respecting us a little more. It’s a little lacking sometimes, which invites those kinds of situations in Nashville.

“There are a lot of wide entries and then it really becomes like a bottleneck, and that makes it worse. But in general, on normal road courses, for example, you don’t really see this behavior. It’s a bit more extreme on a street course when someone puts someone in the wall, compared to Indy GP where someone puts someone on the grass and corner exits. There is obviously a higher price to pay when this happens on street courses.

Scott Dixon, a six-time IndyCar champion and winner of Sunday’s Nashville race, thinks the tank-like Dallara DW12s played a role in the extent to which drivers were willing to push each other.

“The other way of looking at it is that the car is probably too robust,” he said. “I even look at my accident – ​​I got hit hard, man. Ripped off the bottom of the floor. This meant that the suspension would have been off most of the time; this shot would have cornered the car in other open-wheel formulas. I think it was Friday or Saturday morning practice where I hit the wall really hard on the inside of turn 11. And it really didn’t matter; I thought that would have retracted the suspension, but it didn’t.

“So in a way I think the car – because we know it’s so strong and really doesn’t break like a typical formula car – changes the mindset in the way I know in some situations you’re like, “Go for it!”, because the car is going to be pretty solid and most of the time you’re just going to bounce off whatever you hit. When I was in the junior classes, or even in the early days of IndyCar, you couldn’t really do that. You’d be out of the race, so it would make you think twice about driving that way.

Just as some drivers were guilty of driving over the limit and bumping into those nearby, Dixon saw some opposing behaviors that also caused problems.

“I thought during the race there were also people who were quite cautious,” he said. And that’s what caused a lot of saves in some corners. I even went to see Jimmie [Johnson’s] video on board the other night when I was flying and you can just see the caution of some people, and I also had a few situations where I felt like it was causing more trouble than some maybe taking advantage of it- being, or knowing that people will step out of the accelerator for them. It certainly wasn’t one thing that was causing all of this.

The race had a happy ending for Scott Dixon, but the Kiwi believes the shock his car suffered along the way illustrates why some drivers see little downside to making aggressive moves. Gavin Baker/Motorsport Pictures

Ericsson points to another dynamic around which IndyCar race control fits into penalizing bad behavior. Count the Indy 500 winner among a growing number of drivers who don’t know what counts as a foul and why series referees choose to let other incidents go unpunished.

“And it’s not like we’re just talking about the Nashville race,” he said. “I think you can look at the whole season, there have been a few situations where the race has been quite difficult, but sometimes you wonder if it has exceeded the limit. Like the Felix [Rosenqvist] and [Alexander] Situation of Rossi in Toronto, no penalty for Felix. [Romain] Grosjean had a couple where there was no penalty. So that sends a message to the rest of the driver group that it’s okay to do so.

“And then people take advantage of that, because we’re all competitors, we all want to win. If we see a guy take out someone in front of us, and there’s no penalty, that’s something everyone will use to their advantage. But on a track like Nashville, that creates delicate situations, and that complicates the task of the stewards. They want to be consistent in how they judge situations. But I think there is a discussion to be had, probably out of season. We need clearer guidelines. “It’s good, and it’s not good.” Or, ‘it’s a penalty; it is not a sanction”, for example.

Dixon likes the idea of ​​drivers meeting alone to see if internal policing is possible. The pilots, in every series, have held many meetings like these over the decades. It is difficult to cite an example where 100% adherence has been achieved and everyone involved has embraced a new standard of conduct.

“All the drivers get together and talk and then find common ground, it’s probably a good start but not everyone will agree,” said the veteran. “And I can tell you right now it’s going to be 50-50 if people are ok with it and others say give it a try.”

Daly is leaning in Ericsson’s direction for IndyCar referees to set a strict tone about what will and will not be accepted in races.

“Sometimes it’s like it’s a double standard, because in some races when a guy goes off the road it’s not a penalty and everyone says it’s a good race,” he said. he declared. “But then you go somewhere else, the same thing happens, and depending on what, maybe it’s a penalty or maybe it’s not a penalty. It can be confusing most of the time. .

“And then from our side, in terms of standards of conduct, I wish they would improve slightly. Will we do it ourselves? Doubtful. Maybe there needs to be a stricter manager in the room for that to happen.