NASCAR has its own ‘Indianapolis 2005′ – but the race goes on

20 cars on the grid at Indianapolis in 2005 - only six would start

20 cars on the grid at Indianapolis in 2005 - only six would start

We all remember the debacle of a ‘race’ F1 put on at Indianapolis in the 2005 United States Grand Prix.

Yesterday NASCAR suffered its own version at the very same venue, albeit running the full oval rather than the road course.

NASCAR managed to put on a full race, of sorts, with a full field. So, did they handle it better than F1 did?

Indianapolis 2005

After the formation lap the 14 Michelin runners withdrew

After the formation lap the 14 Michelin runners withdrew

When the F1 teams arrived at Indianapolis in 2005 no-one had tested at the track since then last event there 12 months earlier. But the FIA had changed the rules since the last race and now each driver had to do the full race distance on one set of tyres.

Early on the Friday of the race weekend Michelin discovered their teams’ tyres would only last a handful of laps before failing. Rival Bridgestone’s rubber was fine. This meant 14 of the 20 drivers did not have adequate rubber to race on.

Team bosses, race organisers and the FIA stewards discussed potential solutions. The Michelin-supplied teams offered to forfeit any championship points scored in the event. But no compromise was found and only the six Bridgestone runners took the start.

Why wasn’t a solution found?

Who was to blame for the debacle is a question that still divides many fans.

Clearly Michelin failed to anticipate the consequences of their tyre design at a circuit like Indianapolis with its long, fast banked turn 13 caused the failures.

But could a compromise have saved the day? Perhaps. FIA President Max Mosley insisted the only permissible solution was for the Michelin-shod drivers to run more slowly through the ‘danger area’ of turn 13. But this seemed fraught with problems.

How fast should they drive through the turn? It would likely be far slower than the Bridgestone-shod cars approaching top speed. So wouldn’t this be just as grave a safety risk as attempting to drive on the tyres at full speed?

Building a chicane in front of the final corner to slow the cars would have been the best possible solution, especially when combined with the Michelin teams’ offer that only the Bridgestone teams would score championship points. Since 2005 other series have used this solution in similar circumstances, such as Champ Car.

Mosley batted away the suggestion with a meaningless analogy about skiing. His refusal of the compromise was taken by many as a clear indication that he just wanted to humiliate and punish Michelin for their mistake.

Read the original report: 2005 United States Grand Prix

NASCAR’s dilemma

The NASCAR situation last weekend had similarities and differences.

Unlike F1 in 2005, NASCAR today has a single tyre supplier. Drivers from three different NASCAR manufacturers tested at the Indianapolis oval in April: Dale Earnhardt Jnr (Chevrolet), Kurt Busch (Dodge) and Brian Vickers (Toyota). In Earnhardt’s words:

I helped tyre test here [so] blame it all on me if you want to. But when I was here, [the tyres] were wearing out in five laps, too.

Despite their pre-race testing NASCAR’s tyres were wearing out exceptionally quickly. Whereas the F1 tyres were failing because of problems with the sidewalls, Goodyear simply couldn’t make their tyres last. As with F1, they had been caught out by a fundamental change in the rules in the time since the last race was run. In this case, the switch to NASCAR’s new ‘Car of Tomorrow’ chassis.

The NASCAR solution

Goodyear handed out extra sets of tyres to its teams and flew in a different variation of the same tyre construction, as used at Pocono, to use as an alternative if needed. NASCAR told the teams there would be a ‘caution’ (yellow flag) period on lap ten at which point tyres could be changed.

There were hopes that, as more rubber was laid on the track, the problem would be eased. But this turned out not to be the case. The 400 mile race saw 11 separate caution periods for 53 of the 160 laps. The longest green flag run lasted only 14 laps (and a lap on a NASCAR oval takes less time than a lap of a typical F1 track).

The race was essentially decided by the race to the pit lane exit at the final caution period. So was this the best NASCAR could have done under the circumstances? And does it show how F1 might have done better?

Any lessons for F1?

Part of the problem for F1 in 2005 was that if anything had been done to help the Michelin teams race, something had to be done to sweeten the deal for the Bridgestone teams, who had turned up with the right rubber in the first place.

NASCAR didn’t have to worry about that this weekend, and nor would F1 if it happened to them tomorrow, as it too now has only one tyre supplier. (Partly, some would say, as a consequence of Mosley’s vindictive action against Michelin).

The idea of having a mandatory caution period after a set number of laps was not considered in 2005 and it probably wouldn’t have helped anyway. The Michelin tyres were not failing because of wear, the problem was the sidewall construction.

So in a sense the problem NASCAR had to surmount was not as complicated as the one that F1 faced three years ago. But that does not excuse those responsible for running F1 from failing to find a solution. However NASCAR and Goodyear must feel embarrassed about having known about the problem for three months but not fixed it.

It might not have been much of a race at Indianapolis yesterday, but it was still a race of sorts. Was F1’s six-car farce really any better?

Thanks to Gman for some linke that were very useful in writing this article. Extra detail from NASCAR fans who can provide more information is especially welcome.

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40 comments on NASCAR has its own ‘Indianapolis 2005′ – but the race goes on

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  1. Now the question of who was responsible for the ’05 USGP debacle is very clear. Max couldn’t possibly have spanked Michelin any harder, could he? Not to mention all of the Michelin customer teams. Multiple butt beatings and all at once.

    Bernie and Tony George tried any number of reasonable compromise solutions that good old Max would have none of. All of the paying customers could have seen a race, but Max was too consumed with punitive punishment to the non-favored F1 players.

    As for yesterdays “race” at Indy, it too was an embarrassment, and while more boring than a usual oval race, at least the sanctioning body made attempts to put on a show of some kind. Not very satisfying, granted, but better than watching six cars as opposed to a full field compared to what happened at the USGP.

  2. Dan M said on 28th July 2008, 22:15

    I think as painful as it was to watch yesterday, Nascar did do this for the safety of the drivers. I commend them for that.

    Although they knew about the tire(tyre)issues when testing, it was only three cars on the track and I think they thought that once 42 cars ran through practice qually and into the race that the track would have rubbered up.

    Instead it looks like the compound used was too hard. Instead of the rubber heating up and sticking to the surface it simply turned to dust. It was like taking a rubber eraser to sandpaper. The track looked like a black beach by the finish.

    It could have been much worse, a couple of drivers did blow out tires and it wasn’t pretty. Nascar has become a fairly safe sport since 2001, but a blown tire at 200mph could have easily taken a life.

  3. Robert McKay said on 28th July 2008, 22:27

    “As for yesterdays “race” at Indy, it too was an embarrassment, and while more boring than a usual oval race, at least the sanctioning body made attempts to put on a show of some kind. Not very satisfying, granted, but better than watching six cars as opposed to a full field compared to what happened at the USGP.”

    That is, with all due respect, totally subjective. I watched the NASCAR debacle yesterday and it was equally as stupid as F1’s situation. In some ways it was worse, because the competition yellows were the governing body acknowledging the tyres were unsafe and making the drivers race anyway – and given that some big blow-outs DID occur, someone could have been punted heavily into a wall and injured. And for all that risk, the race was rendered completely and utterly pointless – a lottery of who would make it to the end of each “segment” of tyre failure. They couldn’t even run each short 10 lap stint at full pace, as the tyres would only last flat out for 6 laps roughly. And the only way NASCAR could get to the end of the race was by deliberately extending the caution periods by a few laps even though there was no debris to clear, and to make up rules on the fly by closing the pitlane to stoppers a couple of laps BEFORE their designated tyre change. In the end it came down to a couple of laps at the end, which is arguably what most NASCAR races boil down to but this wasn’t even an attempt to be subtle about it. I know America is all about “the show”, but what kind of a show was that? A complete waste of everyone’s time.

    With regards to F1, the difference was that the (Michelin) F1 teams had the balls to stand up to the governing body, say loudly and clearly “we cannot and will not race” and take the consequences. The NASCAR teams clearly were too scared of making a scene about it, either from a sponsors point of view or from the bigwigs coming down on them point of view. As Sky pointed out, a driver (the name escapes me) who was incredibly scathing about Goodyear a few months back suddenly became very supportive, now that he’s a team manager.

    All in all both codes completely failed to achieve a satisfactory resolution, in my view. But in both situations there was an element of inevitability about what was going to need to happen. The European mentality was to pack up and go home, and the American mentality was to muddle through somehow to maintain the illusion of show. Both were wrong.

  4. Sorry Robert McKay, while I see your point I can’t agree with it. At least there were 200,000 fans who got to see some kind of show yesterday as opposed to the F1 fans who saw 6 cars in ’05. Do you really think that was better?

    Would you have canceled the event and sent those people home? They attempted to make the best of a bad situation.

    The difference in how the two problems were resolved was based on the fact that NASCAR is fan friendly (and yes, sponsor conscious) and would do anything within safety parameters to put on a race whereas Max could care less about who shows up at a race and what they get to watch.
    Max forced the pack up and go home option, not the teams or drivers.

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th July 2008, 22:44

    GeorgeK – when you say “Max could care less about who shows up at a race and what they get to watch” am I right in saying you mean he ‘couldn’t care less’?

    At least there were 200,000 fans who got to see some kind of show yesterday as opposed to the F1 fans who saw 6 cars in ‘05.

    I see your point, but here’s something that just occured to me. I think the ‘race’ NASCAR put on yesterday was much closer to the sort of racing NASCAR fans are used to than if you saw the same sort of thing at an F1 track. By which I mean very regular safety car interruptions.

  6. Robert McKay said on 28th July 2008, 23:04

    “Would you have canceled the event and sent those people home? They attempted to make the best of a bad situation.”

    I don’t doubt that. But if it rains before or during a NASCAR race, noone says “let’s plow on for the sake of the show and the fans”, they say, quite sensibly, let’s reschedule this. So NASCAR fans are used to the show not going on, under special circumstances. I don’t know what they do – I presume they make the tickets valid for another day or offer refunds.

    To be honest, all I can ask is that the hardcore NASCAR fans tell us their view, which might not be likely to be seen on an F1 forum. If they all say “well, we got a rotten race, but at least we got some and I’m happy that I got value for the money I paid” then I’ll defer to that. If they all say “that was a shambles and it should have been done differently as it wasn’t worth the money” then again, fair enough. I guess the mentality is different.

    To be frank, the very fact that they could get away with running the race like that tells you a lot about the actual style of the racing, as Keith says.

  7. francois said on 28th July 2008, 23:46

    One thing I’ve always wondered -this might sound a bit ridiculous – is why it wasn’t insisted that everyone run on Bridgestone tyres , even if they normally are supplied by Michelin.Brigestone tyres can’t be so fundamentally different to Michelins that cars would only run on one manufacturer’s tyres and not the other.

    It’s perfectly clear in both cases (especially the latter with the single supplier) that the races should have been postponed until decent tyres were found.With everything driven by TV and sponsors that would never happen these days – look at the debacle with the Safety Car in Fuji last year.

  8. I think Nascar’s solution was terrible but at least it was something their fans are accustomed to seeing: full cautions. Had Indianapolis installed a tire chicane at the 11th hour to slow the last turn (a practice familiar to F1 fans, and honestly equally terrible), 2005 may have at least had all the cars running.

    I have to admit I didn’t get to watch the race because I worked that day. I didn’t know that the Michelin cars were lined up on the grid and paraded. How terrible the rash of withdrawals must have seemed to the spectators.

  9. Dan M said on 29th July 2008, 0:26

    “As Sky pointed out, a driver (the name escapes me) who was incredibly scathing about Goodyear a few months back suddenly became very supportive, now that he’s a team manager.”
    That would be Tony Steward, who purchased 50% of a small team. I believe his words were ” After that race I wouldn’t put Goodyear tires on any of my

    Pit stops in NASCAR are nothing like stops in F1, there is some risk and incredible skill involved that even if the racing sucked it was far from a lottery. The winner, Jimmie Johnson, has the best overall team. That’s why he won yesterday.

    I’m starting to sense a little bias here, I think people are ripping NASCAR simply because they don’t enjoy it.

  10. Simply switching tires wouldn’t work. Teams spend countless hours and money on developing their car according to tire characteristics, so switching tires would upset the balance of the car.

  11. Rabi said on 29th July 2008, 2:00

    plus the fact that Michelen may not want other teams to sport a different manufacturer’s tyres on their contracts.

    2005 could have been avoided with the tyre chicane. And it could have happened if both Jordan and Minardi not gone out to the race. Imagine a two car race with the Ferrari’s it would have made both Max and Ferrari look like the culprits and absolute idiots.

  12. Journeyer said on 29th July 2008, 2:06

    Dan, yup that’s Tony Stewart, who’s becoming a team owner starting next year.

    But I think NASCAR’s solution was, well, even worse than F1’s. If safety was why they did all this, there were still big crashes. If someone got hurt, or worse, that would make this big problem even bigger. In the end, the risks should’ve outweighed the show.

  13. the limit said on 29th July 2008, 3:52

    I don’t mean to beat the same old drum here, but I can remember the reaction of a lot of fans back in 1994 after Roland Ratzenberger was killed. The vast majority, and I mean vast, did not want the race to go ahead the following day.
    Plenty of the teams didn’t, and infamously, plenty of the drivers had their reservations. The result, was the loss of one of the sport’s most acclaimed drivers, that would cast such a big shadow.
    Fast forward eleven years. Here is F1, in a simular situation without the horrible outcome of Imola. Should we risk it, should we not?
    After Imola 1994, many people criticised F1’s insistance on racing that weekend, for the sake of ‘putting on a show’. This opinion of Imola 1994 still persists to this day among fans worldwide.
    In 2005, F1 chose the opposite route. Although Ralf Schumacher escaped injury following his 190mph crash, the chances of a repeat were still too high. A simular crash in race conditions, would almost certainly lead to a huge pileup and the almost certain loss of life among those involved.
    As embarrassing and damaging an episode it was to F1’s credibility and standing in America, I will always believe that by not racing, the right decision was made.
    By racing at Imola in 1994, F1 had risked everything and in the process, suffered far greater long term implications than in Indianapolis a decade later.
    As for NASCAR, the situation is very much different.
    Sprint Cup cars are designed, fundamentally to race, on the superfast oval tracks such as Indianapolis, Daytona, Talladega, and so on. For F1, driving the high banked corners of an American oval was somewhat of a novalty. For NASCAR, it is their bread and butter.
    The situation that NASCAR found themselves in surprised me, in that they should be ‘experts’ on running these of type circuits. The ‘Car Of Tomorrow’ or C.O.T. has been extensively used for the better part of a year now, on tracks every bit as daunting as Indianapolis.
    This episode goes to show, that maybe we were all a little too harsh on F1 three years ago. It would seem that nobody is immune from the odd embarrassment once in a while.
    As for the race, if you could call it that, still went on in the rather ‘vain’ hope of saving face. As at Imola in 1994, the temptation to put on a show and make some money proved just too much for those involved.

  14. Gman said on 29th July 2008, 4:20

    While I’m not much of a NASCAR fan, the debacle yesterday has gotten plenty of mainstream sports media attention here in the U.S., and I did catch a good portion of the race on TV. To me, both 2005 and 2008 were a case of very poor planning by the tire companies involved, and it would not be an easy to find anything close to a perfect solution to either event.

    Indeed, NASCAR races normally are decided towards the end, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the decision to race with the yellow flags yesterday. To me, it was all about giving the fans and sponsors something to see to get their money worth. If the “pack up and go home” option had been used for the entire field yesterday, you can forget the trash being thrown from the stands in ’05- the 200,000 or so NASCAR faithful would have torn down the fences and stormed the paddock (if it’s called that in NASCAR-speak) to find the guilty parties.

    In the end, I think NASCAR was a success where F1 failed, in finding a comprimise to put on a reasonably good show. If the chicane/forfit points option had been used in 2005, it would have been a black eye for the sport in America, but not the crippling blow that many now make it out to be.

  15. Gman said on 29th July 2008, 4:28

    If I may, just two brief insights that could be applied to this case. First, it is worth noting that NASCAR is the bread-and-butter of American motorsports, and even if the 2005 situation had played out with the NASCAR field, the sport would still remain ultra-strong over here. With F1, it seems as though many people(not on here, much to the creidt of you fine people) seem to look for excuses for F1 to fail in America, and Indy 2005 will always be the perfect amunition for that crowd. My point here is that the series involved in the racing makes a difference, and sadly, F1 and it’s fans will always be grilled far more for 2005 than anyone in NASCAR will be over this event.

    Second, as I was watching yesterday, I was wondering about the logistical side of things. NASCAR dosen’t race in the rain, and one in awhile a race will be pushed back to Monday to allow for safe conditions. While this is not the obvious first choice, I was wondering if NASCAR could have postponed the race a day and had proper tires flown in. I don’t know a darned thing about tire manufacturing and logistics, so perhaps some of you with more viewing experience could discuss if this was/is a viable option?

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