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

  1. Journeyer said on 29th July 2008, 4:50

    Gman, Michelin discussed this as a possibility in 2005, but couldn’t do so because of the rules. But from what I understand, both the Goodyear softs and hards didn’t work here. It may be the cause of the tyre failures were down to the fundamentals of the Goodyear tyre construction, which would mean flying new tyres may not solve the problem so easily.

  2. My understanding of the Goodyear problem is simply that the CORN (Car of Right Now) doesn’t generate as much downforce as the past design and therefore relies too much on the tires to generate grip.

    The small victory here is that Nascar managed to run a race in such a way that nobody had to abandon the event and nobody got hurt either. It wasn’t a perfect solution (tires that grip at speed) but it did the job for the moment.

    I think the typical Nascar way of preventing this problem next year is to use a smaller restrictor plate to bring the speeds down. Allowing more downforce in the wings and splitters might help too.

  3. Brakius said on 29th July 2008, 5:05

    I think Nascar missed a golden opportunity Sunday. Everyone was on the same tires unlike the 2005 F1 race. Everyone was subject to the same conditions. All the teams were aware they couldn’t drive but 10 – 12 laps on the tires, why not after the first two competition yellows let them come in as they see fit. Green flag pit stops every 10 – 15 laps, some drivers actually willing to take a chance and push for that extra lap. To me it’s no different when a driver opts to run slick tires while the track is still drying. It’s risk vs reward. Motor racing is still and always will be a dangerous sport. No matter how safe you try to make it, there is always the inevitable. This could have possibly been a great race, ans being so close to the “chase” it could have shaken every thing up

  4. Number 38 said on 29th July 2008, 5:50

    F1 fanatics? A surprising number of regulars seem well versed in NASCAR !

  5. Sush said on 29th July 2008, 7:02

    Re the 2005 race, if I was bridgestone I would have offered my tyres to the michellin teams, to allow the race to go on.

    would have had major kudos points for future too, not to mention a slap in the face for michelin.

  6. I think this situation can happen again in F1, and that the FIA are in no position to do anything about it.
    Bridgestone are the only tyre supplier, and there has been at least one race this season where they admitted they had brought the wrong tyre and the teams had to live with it.
    What happens if they go to Valencia or Singapore (both new circuits this year) with the wrong tyre and have to refuse to let the cars out on track (as Michelin did in 05)? Would Bernie and Max give them the time to fly in the right tyres? (unlike 05). Or would they refund the fans (and the teams) for a wasted weekend?

  7. Robert Mckay said on 29th July 2008, 8:27

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

    I think that’s unfair. I know myself I’ve written an article for this site extolling some of the virtues and things NASCAR gets right that F1 could learn a few lessons from. But surely even the most ardent NASCAR fan would have to admit that that “race” was pretty farcical.

    I was equally scathing of F1′s abominable US GP disaster (if not more so, being a bigger fan). I appreciate that things are done differently in America, so like I said before if the NASCAR fans were happy with what they got then fine.

  8. Journeyer said on 29th July 2008, 9:12

    NASCAR fans weren’t happy. Not even close.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3507905

    I highly recommend reading the article in whole. The most stunning paragraph for me:

    “Other callers invoked the memories of the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix, also held at Indy, when all but six cars pulled off the track before the green flag over concerns that Michelin’s race tire wouldn’t hold up.
    ‘That was the worst race of all time,’ one radio caller declared. ‘Until today.’
    Ouch. ”

    What else needs to be said?

  9. Sav22 said on 29th July 2008, 9:16

    Like Keith said, Sunday’s race wasn’t that strange, as all NASCAR races have numerous cautions. Quite pathetic though, the commentators often say “caution for debris”, when there isn’t any.

    I know F1 can be boring, but at least the officials don’t call safety car when they feel like it. That’s one reason why I cannot respect NASCAR drivers as much as F1 drivers, the NASCAR races have so many unnecessary cautions. In F1 the drivers have to be on the limit for every lap, except when a genuine incident occurs. No fake SC periods.

  10. Journeyer said on 29th July 2008, 9:18

    Sav22, I respect the NASCAR drivers, who I don’t respect as much is the NASCAR rulemakers… Hmmm… Kinda like the F1 rulemakers then?

  11. Sav22 said on 29th July 2008, 9:25

    Well the drivers often have long breaks with the cautions, don’t they?

    Of course guys like Stewart and Kyle Bush I do have respect for, as they risk there lives and have great talent. But in most F1 races there aren’t any SC periods, let alone fake ones for no apparent reason. So F1 drivers have to drive fast for every single lap. Not get a fake SC period every now and then.

  12. Chalky said on 29th July 2008, 9:48

    It seems a strange decision for NASCAR to opt for regular cautions. All the teams knew that they could last 10 maybe 12 laps green flag.
    Now what’s the difference between knowing that info and knowing that a regular race they could do 40 to 50 laps green flag? None!
    Would NASCAR throw a yellow in another race because teams were risking their tyres by running them too long? No they wouldn’t.
    Therefore let the teams decide and they can then adapt their strategy. Goodyear brought extra tyres with them to help this.
    So then the teams run with less fuel and run as many laps as the tyres can hold (i.e: 10 to 12 laps) and then pit under green.
    Some drivers down the grid may risk running a bit slower and going extra laps to save on pit stops.
    The race would be won by team strategy, or is that making it too F1 for them? :D
    I guess the problem is they called it the “Sprint Cup” and it would be more endurance racing for them.

  13. Journeyer said on 29th July 2008, 9:58

    I guess the reason for the mandatory cautions was that they were trying to minimize teams trying to stay out too long – which, if they weren’t careful, could cause HUGE blowouts. Those blowouts could even trigger “big ones” – massive pileups that take out more than a dozen cars!

    And that would’ve caused a lot of headaches for NASCAR if anyone got hurt.

  14. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th July 2008, 9:58

    Chalky – Perhaps without the cautions they wouldn’t have had enough tyres? If they changed tyres every ten laps that’s 16 sets of tyres in a 160-lap race, and I think they had 10. Goodyear brought in the tyres for the Pocono race as a reserve in case they ran out.

  15. At least NASCAR tried a solution to their problem, even if it wasn’t satisfactory to the spectators. That way they can learn from it and do better next time. That’s a stage further than F1 got when it had a tyre problem…

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