IndyCar on reasons behind Detroit cautions, stoppages, non-calls

IndyCar has explained the reasoning behind some of the seemingly debatable decisions made during last weekend’s Detroit Grand Prix double-header.

IndyCar on reasons behind Detroit cautions, stoppages, non-calls

Motorsport.com contacted the series with several questions that arose among media, fans and drivers following the Detroit races.

One such question concerned the rationale behind letting the cars lap twice lap under yellow before calling the first red flag following Felix Rosenqvist’s huge shunt at Turn 6 on his 24th lap. The cockpit extrication alone was obviously going to take far longer than normal, given the driver’s at-that-point unknown injuries, the AMR Safety Team’s traditionally careful procedures, and the fact that the #7 Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet was at an extremely nose-high angle, having ended up atop several tires from the tire wall.

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The circuit, too, was going to need extensive repairs, with the concrete blocks behind the tire wall having toppled, and the catch fencing having been flattened. The whole process took 80 minutes.

By contrast, when Romain Grosjean crashed at Turn 9 on his 64th lap, the race went from caution to red extremely promptly.

Asked if they would explain why Grosjean’s shunt was worthy of a red and whether it was to ensure the race finished under green-flag conditions, the series’ written reply – attributed to ‘IndyCar officials’ – stated: “IndyCar’s priority is to always to finish Races under a Green Condition whenever possible within the scheduled distance. This goal is explained in every Driver/Team Manager briefing that takes place on Race weekends, with the understanding that, if possible, a Red Condition may be deployed to ensure an opportunity for a Green Flag finish in an effort to give the AMR Safety Team enough time to service an incident.

“While IndyCar has other options to shorten the duration of a Full Course Yellow (FCY) such as abandoning certain procedures inherent to a FCY, a Red Condition is the surest way to ensure that we can resume the Race without resorting to finishing the Race under a FCY. 

Sometimes a Red Condition is not possible to be deployed due to not having a sufficient number of laps remaining, as we experienced in the 2020 Indy 500.

“Prior to every Race, IndyCar identifies a lap window remaining, where if a myriad of factors are met, we may deploy a Red Condition to avoid finishing the Race under a FCY.  This is exactly what happened on Saturday.

“In the case of Saturday, the #51 [Grosjean’s Dale Coyne Racing with RWR-Honda] had a collapsed right front corner, which means the Car was laying on the floor.  The only way to extract the Car is to bring a wrecker onto the scene to lift and remove the Car. Dragging the car on the floor to the nearest overlap is not an option, as more harm would be done that would likely slow the extraction.

“Additionally, as the barrier moved due to the significant force of the impact, the Safety Team needed time to reposition the walls back to their original location and to ensure we don’t have any leading edges. This was the biggest factor in the decision to issue the Red Condition, as a wall movement is a much bigger unknown on a repair time than a car extraction.

“For background, we actually invoked the same Red Condition procedure at Detroit in Race 2 in 2019 with almost the same amount of laps remaining, for the #10 [Rosenqvist, at that time, in a Ganassi car] crashing in T1, and at the 2019 Indy 500 for the #15 [Graham Rahal RLL-Honda] and #18 [Sebastien Bourdais, then in a Coyne-Honda] crash in T3. Both times we were able to finish the Race under Green.”

Will Power’s Team Penske-Chevrolet was leading before that second red flag, and so he reached the pitlane before his rivals, and therefore was sitting still, engine off in the outer ‘fast lane’ of pitlane for longer than his rivals. When the Grosjean shunt scene had been cleared, and it was time to restart the engines, his failed to fire. Motorsport.com asked IndyCar why were there no pitcrew members allowed over the wall to put cool-air fans on the cars as soon as they were stationary, pointing out that it didn’t seem like a safety issue, considering crews are used to pitstops, when they’re surrounded by cars urgently sliding to a halt in their pitboxes or spinning their wheels on exit. In other words, crews would know how to stay safe around cars that were just trickling to a halt pitlane.

IndyCar’s response quoted the rulebook and then explained the red flag procedure.

“7.1.4. Red Condition – The Red Condition signifies suspension of on-Track activities. All Drivers are required to slow to caution speed, maintain position and yield to safety vehicles and personnel. All timing and scoring shall be suspended at the declaration of the Red Condition…

“7.1.4.2. Parade and Pace Laps / Race – The following procedures will be in effect: 

  1. a) Competitors must proceed cautiously to a location designated by Officials. The Pit Lane is declared to be closed in a manner consistent with Rule 7.1.3.3. [This is to prevent teams changing tires, refueling, making wing adjustments, etc. while the race is suspended.]
  2. b) Two (2) crew members are allowed over the wall to attend to the Car and Driver. 
  3. c) Unless otherwise approved by IndyCar, the work permitted on Cars while in the designated location consists of plugging in a booster battery, applying towels to bodywork, providing the Driver a drink bottle and fan, and placing fans in the radiator boxes and brakes ducts for cooling. Cars must return to their Pit Boxes for any additional work. 
  4. d) Items which may produce a safety issue must be repaired, replaced and/or removed at the direction of IndyCar. Cars must return to their Pit Boxes for work.”

The email continued:

“Procedurally, these are the steps for how a Red Condition unfolds:

  • A Full Course Yellow is declared to immediately dispatch safety resources to the incident and the Pace Car is dispatched to pick up the Race Leader.
  • Once the Race Leader is captured by the Pace Car and all Cars are past Pit In on Track, a Red Condition is declared, all Cars must pit at the next opportunity.  All cars must be by Pit In so that the relative lap count and running order is maintained, and Cars aren’t diving into Pit Lane out of order and thus creating divergent lap counts.
  • All Cars are instructed to follow the Pace Car into Pit Lane, remaining in the fast (outer) lane where the entire field is parked past S/F [start/finish line] so that relative lap counts are maintained.
  • Since the Pits are closed, no work outside of what is listed in 7.1.4.2 is permitted.  At this stage, the Cars are in a quasi-impound situation so that no Teams may make performance adjustments, etc. to gain an advantage outside of the normal course of the Race.  There is a small delay (about 20 seconds) from when the last Car parks and when the limited crew is permitted to engage in the outlined.  The purpose of this short delay is to make sure our Pit Techs are in position to monitor all Cars according to the Rules, and so that the appropriate Team Members are in position to begin the outlined work at the same time.
  • Once the above criteria is satisfied, Race Control makes the announcement that the outlined work can proceed.
  • As the incident clean-up progresses, Race Control counts the teams back into the engine restart procedure, and the subsequent timeline to restart the Race.

“The same procedure was employed for both Red Conditions on Saturday (and for previous Red Conditions in other Races), with the only difference being that drivers had the option to exit Cars during the Red Condition for the #7 [Rosenqvist].”

In Sunday’s race, AJ Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett came to a halt at pit exit with a loose right-rear wheel. Asked why this had not invoked a full-course yellow – as expected by Penske president Tim Cindric, among others, who pulled race leader Josef Newgarden in early – IndyCar responded: “No FCY for the #4 incident because we had Safety team members in close proximity that could safely manage the recovery procedure. 

“Similar to other locations at St. Pete, Long Beach, Toronto, Road America, etc., where we recover disabled vehicles without the need for a FCY.”

The closing laps of the race saw Alex Palou first in line behind erstwhile leader but now struggling Penske driver Josef Newgarden on worn tires, but the Ganassi driver couldn’t find a way past. Asked by Motorsport.com afterwards if he felt that IndyCar should have used the yellow-flag periods (or the previous day, the red flag periods) to blast the track clear of the very apparent build up of marbles off line in order to facilitate passing, Palou responded: “Should I be a good boy or a bad boy?! … I can get in trouble… But yeah, to be honest, yeah – and yesterday, as well, we were stopped for like, I don't know, [80] minutes on a red flag, we came back and it was like all marbles and it was like, ‘Come on, why?’

“I guess it's easy to sweep an oval and not so easy to sweep a street course, so maybe that's why we should understand. I don't, but…

“Yeah, for sure, if we didn't have those marbles, overtakes would have been a lot easier. We would have seen so many lockups because as soon as you were running off line, even on the inside a little bit, it was suddenly big pickups and you would spend like two, three corners to take those pickups off again. So yeah, for the next time it would be nice if we could get the track sweep.”

On this matter, IndyCar said that it “doesn’t sweep on Road/Street Courses as the equipment we have doesn’t have the ability to do much with road/street course marbles in a short amount of time.

“IndyCar didn’t sweep during the lengthy Red Condition for the #7 incident as we needed all available resources to focus on rebuilding the racetrack. Marbles are considered part of the racing surface and we try to keep safety vehicles on course to an absolute minimum. This policy was developed after many drivers indicated that they didn’t want to navigate sweeping equipment on road/street courses.

“We do sweep on ovals.”

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