Jay Frye, series president of competition and operations, has told Motorsport.com he’s aiming for consistency, clarity and transparency from Race Control going forward.
To this end, he has appointed former Ford Racing boss Dan Davis as chief steward, assisted by two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk and three-time CART Indy car race winner Max Papis. Frye confirmed this trio will fulfill these roles throughout the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Frye told Motorsport.com: “When we set out to do this, these were the first three people on our list, and we couldn’t be more thrilled and appreciative that they’re willing to do this. To get them onboard is very important to all our stakeholders. And part of our drive toward consistency is to have all three at all the events. There will be no rotation system involving other personnel.”
“The stewards will report to me. Brian Barnhart, as race director, will be independent of the stewards. The stewards all have an equal vote, and Dan being chief steward will be team leader of the group. He will therefore be in charge of administration and organization of the group, but as I say, all three will have an equal vote.
“The race director, Brian, or a race steward can call for a review. Once all three stewards review the incident, they conclude if there needs to be a penalty or not, and based off a pre-defined list of rules and regulations, they will report to the race director and Brian will then convey the outcome of their conclusion to the competitors and the media.
“So Brian is independent. Before, he was part of the decision-making process and now he’s not. His role as race director is already busy enough – hectic, actually – so he doesn’t need more of a burden from stewardship. As far as decision-making is concerned, his job is executing what the stewards decide.”
Frye said he would be in Race Control for the races, but that it would be the stewards who manned Race Control full-time.
“The stewards will be in Race Control for qualifying, they will attend the pre-race drivers’ meeting, they will obviously be up there for the race, and they will be available for a pre-determined time after the race. So if there are any incidents to be discussed, competitors can come in and talk to them about what happened.”
Fewer gray areas
As far as the rules themselves are concerned, Frye stated there would be more clear-cut answers to issues that may occur on track. He said: “We will be issuing penalty guidelines and we’ll make sure we get the drivers’ input as to what those look like. Before, the rulebook [regarding on-track behavior] was probably a little long and we’re going to condense it somewhat and make it more definable.
“We’ve done an internal review along with a few of the drivers, and once we’ve got it to a point where it’s more easily understandable and executable, we’ll share it with all the drivers.”
Removing self-created gray areas and making better judgment calls was a priority, according to Frye, in order to devote more time on unforeseen circumstances.
“Eighty per cent of what happens on track is pretty predictable!” Frye stated. “Our history, our knowledge and our understanding of racecar driver behavior tells us what can happen. The other 20 percent is, ‘Whoah, that’s a new one! I haven’t seen that before.’ And that’s when we’re going to particularly rely on the stewards’ knowledge and experience to come up with how we should respond.
“So having a better definition of how to respond to that more predictable 80 percent will be key to freeing up the stewards to focus on the unpredictable occurrences.”
Frye went on to explain that while debate over stewards’ decisions would be inevitable – among drivers, teams, fans and media – he aimed to reduce that debate.
“Making the rules more black ’n’ white will be key,” he said.
Punishment at the time
One of the frustrations that drivers, teams and fans expressed in 2015, was the tendency for IndyCar to issue bulletins on the Wednesday after a race, imposing punishments – usually in the form of fines – for misdemeanors that in 2014 had been more decisively dealt with “on the spot”. Frye said this practice would end – albeit with one obvious caveat.
“Our goal is that when we leave the track at the end of an event, the race is official, the results are what they are, and if there have been any penalties, they have been imposed already.
“Having said that, there are always going to be post-race inspections which means certain technical issues may be addressed afterward. There are times when post-race analysis will be inevitable, but even that is something we can reduce by making the process more black and white.”
Frye also cited newly appointed vice president of competition, race engineering, Bill Pappas, as a major help when it comes to solidifying race results. Many of the top drivers and race engineers have been critical of IndyCar’s tech inspection team in the recent past, and there were occasions in 2012, ’13 and ’14 when cars that were technically illegal won a race and the result was allowed to stand.
“Bill is as current as can be, in terms of knowledge of what to look for,” said Frye. “He will be very active and engaged in tech inspection and again we will remove gray areas. What is and what isn’t allowed will be far more definable and Bill will do a tremendous job in setting the standards.”
Frye said he intended to upgrade Race Control’s amenities, to avoid the embarrassment of the incident that occurred at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway last year. On that occasion, Graham Rahal wasn’t punished for leaving the pits with part of a fuel nozzle still jammed in his refueling point, because it wasn’t shown on Race Control’s TV bank. The incident only came to the attention of the stewards when former vp of competition Derrick Walker was invited to the TV commentary booth and asked to explain why the #15 RLLR car had escaped censure.
“We learn from our history,” said Frye, “so the stewards will have all the tools they need throughout a race weekend.
"In addition to that, we will have a pre- and post-race video conference to review any of the calls we made or didn’t make at the previous event, and discuss various nuances according to the track being used next race."