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

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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