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. By the way, the 2005 United States Grand Prix review link goes to “Should F1 teams test before racing?”, which although relevant, is probably not what Keith intended.

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th July 2008, 10:36

    Fixed, thanks :-)

  3. Jean said on 29th July 2008, 10:47

    Safety must still be a priority above “the show” , so they should always have a “plan B” in the FIA rules , to ensure in situations like that , that all cars can still take to the track and provide entertainment to the public. With the 2005 US GP , all they should have done was force the Michelin runners to do one (or two if necessary for tyre wear) extra stops (additional to fuel stops) , that would have been the penalty , otherwise they would have been racing flat out (even harder than the Bridgestone runners) and probably provided an even more interesting race. And there must have been a dozen or so alternatives . But as some say above , maybe Max saw this as an opportunity to figuratively cane some Michelin bottoms .

  4. Chalky said on 29th July 2008, 11:53

    Keith – fair point about running out of tyres. But if you only had 10 sets of tyres per team for a 160lap race, then the teams would need to work out what speed to run to make them last 16 laps. Only 4 to 6 laps more than flat out pace.

    It’s common sense really and I thought most racing drivers understood about driving a bit slower to preserve their tyres. Well endurance LMP \ GT racers do.
    Unless NASCAR drivers and teams can’t drive slower as they thought it wouldn’t be so spectacular?

  5. Bert said on 29th July 2008, 13:09

    As much as the 2005 F1 race was a joke, as was the 2008 NASCAR race at indy. Possibly worse since Goodyear actually tested at the track, with the CORN, COTD or whatever you want to call the new spec chassis. They knew what was coming! They hoped that the track would just rubber-in. Just like I hope the government forgets to ask me for my income tax.

    I still have doubts on the 2005 it-was-Michelins-fault story. Toyota had been running very aggressive rear suspension setups, which at the least aggravated the problem. No other Michelin runner had issues.

    Journeyer, but there were blowouts! Kenseth for one. The Harvick-Newman (or was is the Blue deuce) looked like a lack-of-traction thing to me. And about a half dozen drivers who just had to suddenly “woah-up” because the tire fell off so fast.

    Sush, Bridgestone would not have had enough tires to supply all teams. By the regulations they would have needed to be able to supply at least 60% of the teams. However, I am not sure if that means they need actual on-site tire supplies for 0% of the teams or that their production capacity can handle it.

    As for the drivers complaining, especially Stewart who loves to whine and moan, NASCAR had a meeting 4-5-6-7 weeks ago about this. In the NASCAT media the meeting was labled as a shut-up-and-drive meeting. Keep your complaints in the NASCAR family. (i.e. complain to your crew-cheif, to your boss. Pass it up the line) Otherwise they would get whacked with a violation of rule 12-4-A Actions Detrimental To Stock Car Racing.

    I think the worse in all this is the NASCAR media who are yelling “The fans got a race, they saw a competitive finish.” Well, NASCAR should have shortened the race by 150 laps and had a 10 lap race. Everyone knew that that there would never have been more than 10 laps of green-flag racing.

    While I agree that the honourable thing would have been to cancel the race, there are logistical reasons for not doing it. We saw some of the consequences in 2005, with people throwing stuff on the track. Imagine turning loose 150-200K people, some surely well-pickled, most surely angered, in to what is essentially a residential neighborhood. It is somewhat akin to the 1955 Le Mans crash. They didn’t cancel the race, otherwise the rush of outgoing people would have prevented emergency personel comming in.

  6. michael counsell said on 29th July 2008, 13:27

    I bet the IRL feels justified now in having a whole month of practise before the Indy 500. Any tyre problems would be discovered and actions taken well before the race.

  7. the limit said on 30th July 2008, 4:17

    Number 38.

    I am not surprised by the number of people on this debate who are well versed in NASCAR, or any other series. It shows the general love of all motorsports amongst those who frequent this site.
    My main love, has and always will be Formula One, but I do on occasion follow other motorsports series and enjoy comparing them with Formula One.


    In a few brief sentences you have summed up how I felt about Indianapolis 2005. Why didn’t the teams use Bridgestones if they were the correct tyre to be on?
    That to me, at the time, seemed a no brainer too.
    There must have been strong reasons for why the Michelin shod teams chose ‘NOT’ to do this, reasons we will never get to know.

  8. Journeyer said on 30th July 2008, 9:07

    “Journeyer, but there were blowouts! Kenseth for one. The Harvick-Newman (or was is the Blue deuce) looked like a lack-of-traction thing to me. And about a half dozen drivers who just had to suddenly “woah-up” because the tire fell off so fast.”

    Exactly my point, Bert. As I implied earlier, the mandatory cautions may have lessened, but didn’t fully eliminate the problem. Which makes it an unsatisfactory solution, and thus, a worse approach than F1’s.

    “Why didn’t the teams use Bridgestones if they were the correct tyre to be on? That to me, at the time, seemed a no brainer too.”

    Twofold answer, the limit.
    1. Modern F1 cars are designed around the tyres. You can’t just stick a Michelin car onto Bridgestones and expect it to work decently, let alone work well. Modern F1 cars are too sensitive to such things, and it could cause spinouts and huge crashes or accidents.
    2. All the teams have commercial agreements with Michelin. They just can’t switch onto Bridgestones. But if the teams really wanted to, I’m sure there’d have been some loophole for them. But the 1st reason makes much sense – and it’s something the teams, sensibly enough, don’t want to risk.

  9. Journeyer said on 30th July 2008, 9:09

    Oh, best Indy 2005 solution for me: put a chicane in Turn 13, but only Bridgestone runners can score.

    In case this becomes an issue. :)

  10. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd August 2008, 16:22

    Joe Saward at reckons NASCAR’s decision:

    Kept the fans amused. They went home happy.

    Formula 1 may like to think of itself superior to other form of motorsport but there is no doubt that it can learn lessons from other championships.

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