Entering last weekend’s IndyCar season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., much of the discussion was about the series’ decision during the offseason to utilize double-file restarts in all races this year. IndyCar series officials wanted to tighten up the field on restarts, give drivers an opportunity to pass and, honestly, add another touch of excitement to the sport.
So on the start of Sunday’s race, the cars went dashing into the first turn on the first lap and -- Blam! -- a big pileup of stars and cars, most notably Marco Andretti sliding upside-down on the asphalt. Drivers like Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Mike Conway were involved in the incident. All were contenders to win the race.
Drivers, media and the internet forum “experts” quickly jumped and pointed a finger at the series’ double-file restart as the culprit.
Except it wasn’t a double-file restart. It was a double-file start. Like IndyCar and every other form of racing has been using for literally 100 years.
The real culprit, apparently, was Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 champion. As the field barreled down the front straight toward Turn One, Castroneves ducked inside from his ninth starting position. When the cars -- four and five wide -- reached the hard right-hand turn at the end of the front straight, the cars inevitably funneled down. The next thing you knew, cars were sliding everywhere with Andretti on his lid.
“I guess I caused a mess,” Castroneves fessed up.
“As drivers, we take some of the blame,” race winner Dario Franchitti said. “We control the cars.”
Franchitti has accomplished so much in his career, including winning at Indy and winning the 2010 Indy Car championship. He is one of the smartest, most thoughtful drivers in the paddock. But I have to question his point: Some of the blame? Personally I think all of the blame is more accurate. Watching at home on television about 1,500 miles away, I could tell you what was about to happen as the cars took the green flag. And I can tell you similar things are going to happen at Long Beach and Toronto unless the drivers use their heads.
Even the drivers admit to the need to be smart. Dixon, Briscoe and Graham Rahal all used the word “idiots” to describe some of their competitors.
“They can see what’s going on, but they’re not paying attention,” Rahal said.
“There’s zero room for error and we can’t bump like NASCAR,” said Will Power, who finished second.
“I think we are maybe trying to copy something that the other guys do,” said Tony Kanaan, who finished an inspring third in St. Pete. “But we don’t have bumpers and can’t bump each other.”
But Simone de Silvestro may have the biggest set of coconuts: “I thought the double-file restarts were fun because it actually gave us a chance to make positions,” she said, confirming IndyCar’s premise. “Last year we would start single-file every time and it would be hard. You would just follow the leader. I think the restarts made it exciting.”
By the way, who got the biggest ovation from the St. Pete crowd after the race? It was de Silvestro for her stirring St. Pete performance with an under-funded team. Her brave moves reminded more of Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR than it did of a driver fearing the double-file restarts. Fans can see this. And they like it. The fan surveys here overwhelmingly demand double-file restarts. IndyCar racing is wise to listen to the fans after ignoring their wishes for the last two decades.
Use your head, guys. And watch de Silvestro. She can show you how to be brave and smart at the same time.