IndyCar’s controversial Iowa finish, explained

IOWA SPEEDWAY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - JULY 23: #2: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet,  #6: Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, #12: Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway on Sunday July 23, 2023 in Newton, United States of America. (Photo by Phillip Abbott / LAT Images)
IOWA SPEEDWAY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - JULY 23: #2: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet,  #6: Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, #12: Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway on Sunday July 23, 2023 in Newton, United States of America. (Photo by Phillip Abbott / LAT Images)

About the finish to Sunday’s Iowa IndyCar race…

The series’ race control team has come under fire from some who question why the last 10 laps of the 250-lap race weren’t treated in the same manner as May’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, Ryan Hunter-Reay slid out of the groove at Iowa Speedway and struck the wall with his No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy before pitting and climbing from the damaged car.

Unlike the latter stages of the Indy 500, when three crashes resulted in three red flags being deployed to preserve green-flag laps as the various cleanups took place, IndyCar opted to use a caution flag for Hunter-Reay’s incident, using up laps 240-246 in the process and leaving four laps to settle things among the five drivers left on the lead lap.

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IndyCar’s decision to use the Rule 7.1.3.6, which features the worst name I’ve heard for a rule — the ‘Abandonment of Procedures’ — certainly didn’t help sway public opinion in its favor as it elected to close pit lane and prevent the possibility for race leader Josef Newgarden or those in pursuit of the Team Penske driver from bolting on fresh tires and charging to the finish line with maximum grip.

And while I was fond of the decision to go yellow rather than red and appreciated the triggering of Rule 7.1.3.6. to preserve laps by skipping pit stops and the extra procedural time it would consume, it was worth asking IndyCar president Jay Frye to explain how the series arrived at its choices in race control.

“Our number one goal, and we state this every week in the drivers and team manager meetings, is to do everything we can to do a green flag finish within the posted distance of the race,” Frye told RACER. “Obviously, we have no overtime [like NASCAR]. We don’t do that. So we have two options – the abandonment of procedures, which means we don’t have to go through our procedure progression, and the other one is the red flag.

“Sometimes they’re independent of each other, and sometimes they can be concurrent. And the teams are very aware of that. They also are very onboard with our approach to giving the fans a green-flag finish if we’re able.”

As Frye details, the nature of Hunter-Reay’s contact, which damaged the right side of his car but left the No. 20 Chevy and the barrier intact, pointed race control towards a quick caution instead of a complete stoppage.

“If you compare the Indy 500 situation with the Iowa situation, at Indy there were three red flags, and all three of those red flags had very substantial cleanups with multi-car incidents,” he said. “We had to go down and had to clean a lot of things up. Iowa was different. Ryan brushed the wall, we throw the yellow, he does a great job keeping the thing under control and he does a great job getting back to the pits.

“So at that point, versus going red, we have our other ‘abandonment of procedures’ we do, so we go through the process of having the lap-down cars go down pit road and get them reordered, and we restart the race. If he would have not gotten back to the pits, we would have immediately thrown the yellow and then the red. Absolutely. But because he didn’t, we’re able to continue, able to abandon procedures versus red flagging the race, and we accomplished our goal with a green-flag finish. And we think we executed it very well.”

There’s one item left for IndyCar to fix here, and that’s changing the name of Rule 7.1.3.6.

IMSA has the same options in its rulebook, where a caution for a minor incident is treated in the same ​expedited manner by keeping the pits closed and skipping a number of the time-consuming procedures that can kill 15-30 minutes with ease, but it’s known as a ‘fast yellow,’ which sounds ​a​ lot less problematic than ‘abandonment of procedures.’

​Call it a ‘Quick Yellow’ or ‘Quick Red,’ make sure the fans at home and in the grandstands are alerted to the rule being employed, and I’ll bet things will be ​l​ess contentious the next time the series finds itself in this situation.


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