There you are, on a flyer of a lap. Round 2 of qualifying is in your grasp. You know the car. You know the times. You’ve got your team in your ear. Then a red flag comes out. You’re done. The lap you’re on doesn’t count. Who do you blame? Your fellow driver who bit it in a turn? The officials for throwing the red flag? The rules? The INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas was an amazing weekend full of drama. A lot of that drama happened during the race. A lot also happened during qualifying. Both groups in Round 1 had their time stopped when cars skittered off the track. Jack Harvey for Group 1 and Tony Kanaan for Group 2. Perennial fast qualifies Simon Pagenaud, Sebastian Bourdais got caught by the red. The wait and see approach for the Fast 6 went out the window as no one wanted to get caught in by a red. What do you do with a Red? (if you recall Iowa, we discussed What Do You Do with a Yellow and you can read that HERE).
INDYCAR lays out the procedures for qualifications under Rule 8 of their rulebook. Rule 8.3 runs through the process of qualifications in Road and Street Courses. We’ve had two such races already this season. The drivers are in two initial groups (Group 1 and Group 2) for Round 1. Each group will have ten minutes, which includes any time for Red Flags, and the fastest six of each of those groups then advances into Round 2. Round 2 is similar, they will have ten minutes, including any Red Flag time. From Round 2, the fastest six advance into the Firestone Fast 6. During qualifications at the INDYCAR Classic, it was the phrase “inclusive of red flag” that caught everyone. For the first two rounds, they do not stop the time for qualification. A Red Flag situation happens, and the time keeps going until it runs out regardless of if the cars get more time or not after the track has been cleared.
“[I]nclusive of Red Conditions” (INDYCAR Rule Book)
In the Firestone Fast 6, the rule changes. In this session, drivers are guaranteed six minutes of Green flag time. If there is a Red flag, they stop the timing. There is an option for extension. Let’s take a situation where it’s Round 1 Group 1 and within thirty-seconds, we have a Red Flag thrown. It’s a long track clean up and no one has the opportunity to put down any laps. Under Rule 8.3.9 the series may extend the session and allow each car time to put out one timed lap. They have thirty seconds to get out of the pit stall. This is discretionary. In the legal field, if someone throws up the term “discretionary” it means they can do what they want. The rule contemplates a situation where no cars had timed laps. However, the rule ahead of it (8.3.8) contemplates if some but not all of the cars have completed laps and how they’ll order the cars. The first section of the qualification rule (Rule 8.1) lays out how they’ll order cars if Qualifications is not completed, though this seems to contemplate an act of nature type interruption.
Drivers that cause the red flag – they lose their two best-timed laps and don’t get to advance. (Rule 8.3.5) At COTA both Jack Harvey and Tony Kanaan caused the red flags. They started last, and second-to-last in starting order. It is a punitive response for ruining the qualification attempts of the rest of the field. I’m not going to sugar coat that statement. You cause a red flag during qualifications and you’ve ruined attempts for multiple drivers. Both drivers did end the race higher than where they started. Kanaan went from twenty-fourth to twelfth and Harvey went from twenty-third to tenth.
When you wonder how to fix or make sure such things don’t happen you’ve got two options. The Firestone Fast 6 doesn’t need fixing as that round stops the clock if there is a red flag. Should the other two rounds do the same thing? Have the ten-minutes not count time under a red? This seems to be the quickest fix, and in the rules, it would involve a simple strike of a clause (“inclusive of Red Conditions”). The Series may instead put in a rule guaranteeing drivers receive a set number of uninterrupted laps. Should qualifying stop, once the track is clear, drivers will have the opportunity to get those laps in. As an example, the Red flag happens within three minutes of the session starting. Drivers would have probably all put down one lap, but the new rule states they are guaranteed three uninterrupted laps. Once the track is clear, cars are out and drivers are all putting down three (and only three) laps.
Sounds great, an easy fix. It safeguards the drivers and their attempts. Did you remember that qualifications are televised? Did you recall that our series is still growing? Having qualifications on one channel and then move to another after a Red Flag will lose viewers. (remember Sonoma last year where no one knew where the hell the race was?) As the growing Series, we’re still low on the priority list. NBCSN may bump qualifying to another channel if the sports event up next is a bigger draw. Plus would you continue the time or would you guarantee laps? Both cause headaches.
Let’s take the TV issue out of the situation. Luck plays a part in winning in this series (the yellow at COTA did help Colton Herta win). I’m more inclined to the guaranteed laps. Two or three laps, no more and no less. Give them a lap to get back out on the track and then one or two more for time. Imagine the skill at that point. The drivers, especially if they want to advance into the Firestone Fast Six, will be at the edge of their cars.
But hey, I’m not Race Control. They’ve not asked my opinion. So I’ll ask you – how would you fix this problem?