Saturday, June 24, 2017

Adding Laps is a Double-Edged Sword

Some aren't thrilled with the added laps to this year's Road America race
IndyCar has a trend this season and on paper it comes off as a good thing. This year's Road America race will be 55 laps in length, five laps longer than last year's race. It is the third race this season that has been extended in length. In April, Long Beach was extended by five laps to 85 laps and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis was extended by three laps to 85 laps. The intention was not only to provide race fans with more racing but also set up races to allow for alternate stop strategies. Except it might have fallen short this weekend for the Road America race.

Will Power and Graham Rahal both feel not enough laps were added and both feel it will be a three-stop race, not allowing for a four-stop strategy to be successful. Road America has hosted a 60-lap race before but it isn't as easy as it seems. Adding laps sounds great but there is such a thing as a race being too long and while IndyCar prides itself on its races being a decent length, most fitting a two-hour window and not dragging on, you don't want to risk that by adding laps.

Last year's Road America race took just over an hour and 39 minutes and that race had one caution for four laps. Adding five laps should add about eight and a half to nine minutes to the race. It appears it will still fit in to that two-hour window but that is with everything going smoothly and maybe one quick caution period. If the race has caution after caution slowing the race up, it easily will go over two hours.

IndyCar can continue adding laps but there eventually comes a point where adding laps stops solving the issue and becomes the issue. If anything, it can be argued that the race distance is exactly where everyone wants it to be. Everyone from fans to drivers to team owners to writers say they don't want fuel mileage races. We have that with the current Road America distance. Everyone has to make three stops. If you want to make four stops, go ahead but it will likely leave you behind the eight ball. At the end of the day, in racing, there is no need to make unnecessary pit stops and those who make the fewest stops are going to win 99 times out of 100.

If IndyCar and the teams want to create alternate stop strategies in a race then it should look at something other than adding laps. The first thing is having a tire that falls out in the blink of an eye. If it is believed that everyone can do 14 laps on a fuel stint than make it so the alternate tire is junk after five laps and is losing a second a lap from that point on and make it so the primary tire is losing a second a lap after ten laps on a stint. You force the teams to tough it out and risk losing times on degrading tires or come in and continue to chase after fresh rubber and potentially not be able to fight back to the front.

The second thing IndyCar could do is say all the cars have to start with a full tank of fuel at the start of qualifying and not allow refueling during the session. Those who make it to the final round of qualifying will likely start the race needing to pit almost immediately while those that don't advance from the first round of qualifying would have closer to a full tank. Last year, Will Power ran 12 laps in qualifying and Scott Dixon ran 11 laps and that was the front row. They would be going like hell for the first two or three laps of the race to open a gap and set themselves up to lose as little time as possible when making their first pit stop. And if you are wondering what will happen if a team runs out of fuel during qualifying, force them to serve a one-lap penalty at the start of the race. Don't let teams think they can play the system just for a full tank of fuel at the start of the race.

Forcing full tanks at the start of qualifying however will set up a new game in qualifying where some teams will try and win pole position by running as few laps as possible. If someone could win pole position and only run four laps in qualifying than more power to them. It would be a game of cat and mouse. A team might plan to run only four or five laps and make it to the final round of qualifying but if after two laps in round one a team is tenth than it is going to force them to run more laps or accept starting 18th or worse on the grid. I think we all know what that team is going to do.

More laps sounds great because it sounds like more racing but it doesn't necessarily solve the problem. IndyCar could shake up races and force multiple strategies within the currently framework of its races. It is just going to take more than just adding laps to a race.