INDIANAPOLIS -- The Verizon IndyCar Series confirmed a new plan for race management on Tuesday, unveiling a trio of permanent stewards in the hopes of achieving greater consistency in the way races are adjudicated.
Although Brian Barnhart remains the race director, INDYCAR president of competition and operations Jay Frye made an overall shake-up of race control his top priority since assuming his new role in November.
Dan Davis, who was the director of Ford Racing Technology's North American racing activities for 14 years, will serve as chief steward, assisted by former drivers Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis. Luyendyk, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, has worked as a part-time steward for INDYCAR over the past couple of years, while Papis has built a successful company that specializes in making steering wheels for NASCAR competition.
INDYCAR was often criticized for the inconsistency of the penalties it assessed, both during and after races. Examples ranged from numerous calls and non-calls for blocking, to Graham Rahal escaping penalty after driving out of his pit with the fuel hose attached in a race that he eventually won, to Scott Dixon being incorrectly cited for an improper restart because INDYCAR officials watched the wrong replay.
Barnhart wasn't always responsible for the missteps, but he somehow almost always emerged as the man in the crosshairs in the aftermath.
As a result, Frye has tabbed the three men with longtime ties to Indy car racing as stewards to stabilize that side of race control and allow Barnhart to focus on just running the races instead of trying to officiate them too.
All are well versed in the sport of Indy car racing and, perhaps more importantly, they are also well aware of the importance of fast and fair decision-making when it comes to on-track infractions.
Luyendyk, more than almost anyone, knows how things can spiral out of control when race control gets it wrong. He was at the center of one of the most memorable officiating mistakes in IndyCar Series history in 1997 when he won the race at Texas Motor Speedway, but scorers incorrectly had him a lap down to Billy Boat.
When Luyendyk charged into Victory Lane to protest after being credited with second place, he was greeted with a slap to the face by Boat's car owner, Indy car legend A.J. Foyt. The order was reversed the next day and Luyendyk was declared the winner of the race, but Foyt never returned the trophy.
Frye believes that Luyendyk, Papis and Davis have the right skills and temperament to create a respect that has been lacking between the IndyCar Series drivers and officials.
"INDYCAR's stewards have a great deal of experience across many different areas of motorsports and we are confident their varying perspectives will mesh well for consistent execution and enforcement of our rules," Frye said.
"Our desire was to assemble a team with varied backgrounds that would work together to move INDYCAR forward in the area of monitoring on-track competition," he added. "Being a race steward requires thorough knowledge and consistent interpretation of the rules, as well as the ability to enact them with resolve. This is the right group to do that."
There is still more work to be done in race control. There must be more consistency in terms of when cautions are called, and when to open the pits during cautions.
But separating the roles of officiating and running the races is a step in the right direction for INDYCAR, and it's hard to argue against any of the three steward choices.
Davis, who has been out of racing for several years after a brief stint as CEO of Miller Motorsport Park, was the biggest surprise. Yet his experience working with Ford at the height of the engine manufacturer battle during the CART era should prepare him well for the political side of his new role.
Luyendyk and Papis are strong-minded, independent thinkers who will bring a necessary racer's perspective to judgment calls on blocking and contact between cars.
The news that veteran engineer Bill Pappas has been tabbed as INDYCAR's vice president of competition for race engineering is also positive. Pappas is expected to play a key role in regulating the aero kit war between Honda and Chevrolet as well as leading the IndyCar Series' developing a new chassis formula for the future.
INDYCAR still has a tough row to hoe, especially in terms of marketing and promotion and growing the public profile of the series. But these recent hires indicate that the series is making progress in other important areas.