Every sport has a defined field of play.
Whether it is the foul line in baseball, the goal line on a soccer pitch, or even the sideline of a football field, those lines are absolute. The purpose of those lines are defined in their rule books and not up for interpretation. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for racing and it’s beginning to bother me.
Racing doesn’t have set standards because each series has their own interpretation of what is legally “out of bounds”. No bigger example of this than the IndyCar race at COTA. Series officials decided to lift the track limits at turn 19, while also easing track limitations around the track. IndyCar’s reasoning wasn’t for drivers to gain speed though the turn but for safety, as the wear on the alternate compound Firestones were a concern.
In a Motorsports.com article about the new track limits written by David Malsher, Max Papis explains that the “intent of IndyCar has been to not have to enforce track limits when it’s not needed.” He and Arie Luyendyk assist series race director Kyle Norvak in race control.
I understand IndyCar’s want to not enforce track limits because these kinds of penalties can become subjective depending on the opinions of the officials but what determines if proper action is needed or not? When someone gets ran off the track? It is difficult to determine intent and when there isn’t any track limits, how do you know where the track ends? The wall?
There were two instances that stood out to me during the IndyCar Classic that highlighted the necessary need for track limitations. The pass Rossi completed against Herta along the backstretch on lap 22 and the wreck between Hinchcliffe and Rosenqvist that occurred on lap 44.
Coming out of the hairpin of turn 11, Herta (black) positioned himself to the left side on the backstretch to defend the inside line going into the left-hander of turn 12. His choice of positioning is perfect according to the “Racing 101” textbook. Herta leaves half a car width between himself and the white line that would have marked the track limits. Leaving no room for Rossi (blue) to advance along the left side, one would assume that Rossi would be forced to take the outside line to if he wants to attempt a pass into turn 12.
Without track limits, the white line becomes obsolete as Rossi bullies his way inside of Herta and completed the pass for second place. I have to ask, what else does Herta need to do to defend his position from Rossi? Drive all the way to the narrow piece of grass by the wall? My answer, he shouldn’t have to. The line should be a tool for a defending driver because the field of play should be set to the line. Much like a defensive back can use the sideline as a tool to help defensively, a driver should be able to use it in the same context as well.
Turn 19 brought out the only caution of the race and that again, was due to the lack of track limitations. Look at this gaggle of cars below. All of the cars are running different lines, gaining an advantage by not having to stay within the white lines.
The contact between Hinchcliffe (gold and black) and Rosenqvist (blue) happened due to several factors:
1) Hinchcliffe saw an opening on the inside of Rosenqvist and drives over the curb, upsetting the car, causing him to sweep the car wider than he intended.
2) Rosenqvist, trying to carry speed through the corner, goes wide. When trying to reset his car for the final corner, he is trying to cut back onto the racing surface before coming in contact with the grass that is quickly approaching ahead of him.
3) Both drivers make contact as Hinchcliffe is trying to gather his car and Rosenqvist making his efforts to get back onto the racing surface.
Would the provided boundaries in the pictures above been able to deter the caution? I believe so. The curb wouldn’t have been hopped to upset Hinchcliffe’s car and the grass wouldn’t have limited Rosenqvist’s path. The proper track lines would have provided an understanding to the limits of the racing surface for both drivers.
No action was taken by race control for this incident. This was the correct call in my opinion, as it was a direct result of race controls decision to let the drivers run wide through turn 19.
Not to mention the hip-checks in turns 1 and 12 that pushed drivers wide into the run-off area. I’m all for a little argy bargy but when it is done with no regard to the racing space of the other driver, then we might need to reconsider what we find good and fair.
Is there a way to have a uniform regulation on what is and isn’t out of bounds throughout motorsports? No, but I think there could be something close if tracks would be more rigid to the various series that visit their tracks about wanting to keep the integrity of the racing surface they provide. Whether turn 19 at COTA was made specifically for Formula One or not, that corner is unique to that track and the field of play is clearly marked.
Let’s start abiding by those white lines around the track, shall we?