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Counterpoint: Should blocking/ defending rule be retained?

by
Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft
| Aug 31, 2011

In Counterpoint, Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft of MoreFrontWing.com face off on topics related to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither reviews the other's argument until after the article is compiled for posting. It's up to you to decide who's made the better case!

This week: Should INDYCAR's blocking/defending rule be retained for 2012?

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STEPH'S POINT:

After the checkers flew to conclude Sunday's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, Giorgio Pantano parked his car on pit lane feeling very satisfied after bringing home a 6th-place finish in his first outing in the IZOD IndyCar Series in six years.

A few minutes later, he learned -- during a post-race interview with Versus, no less -- that he would be scored not in 6th but in 17th after defending his position against Sébastien Bourdais in a way that's contrary to IZOD IndyCar Series rules.

Pantano was confused. Viewers sounded off against the rule again. The people at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing still refuse to acknowledge the adjusted finishing position.

Was the call correct? Based on the letter of the rule and the precedents (think back to Helio's outburst at Edmonton last year), it definitely was.

Should the universal bewilderment this rule causes among the sport's participants and observers alike be allowed to continue? Absolutely not.

Many people assume that this rule is in place to create passing opportunities for the current spec cars -- with the field being so highly competitive, forcing drivers to keep the inside line open is sometimes the only way to create overtaking. So, with the changes coming to the equipment in 2012, the rule shouldn't be needed any longer, right

Not so fast. In an interview with More Front Wing, Tony Cotman told us that the rule is actually in place as a safety measure and that the current intention is to keep it for 2012. When drivers are allowed to pass willy-nilly, wheels can touch and disaster can result.

Making changes to the sport in the name of safety is extremely important. The rates of driver mortality and injury have gone down markedly in the last 50 years. Innovations like the HANS Device, the SAFER Barrier, and even something as simple as building the cars out of carbon fiber have all made significant contributions to safety in the world of motorsport.

But telling drivers how to do their jobs -- or rather, not to do their jobs at all, since the ability to execute a pass with daring and precision is meant to be a primary driver skill set -- takes the concept of safety too far. It sucks away the entire essence of what makes motorsport great. It removes the drivers' right to take a risk, hang it out, and display their immense talents for the fans. No other form of motorsport on Earth uses a similar rule, open-wheel or otherwise, and that's for very good reason: when you don't allow drivers to pass in any way they see fit, you're not allowing them to be race car drivers anymore.

There's a line that should be drawn, of course. Swerving sharply to keep another driver behind you is unnecessarily dangerous, and officials have a responsibility to police that. But the rule that's good enough for every other racing series in the world -- you can change your line once to defend, but changing it again is a block and will draw a penalty -- should be good enough for INDYCAR, too.

Besides, if wheel contact is what we're really worried about, won't the covers over the rear wheels on the 2012 safety cell take care of that problem for us? When the wheels are designed such that they can't possibly touch in the first place, a rule that's intended to prevent the same becomes redundant.

With the launch of the new safety cell, the return of engine manufacturer competition, an influx of sponsor support, and more, INDYCAR is already going into 2012 with a massive opportunity to wipe the slate clean of many of its ills and make a fresh start. Doing away with one of the most questioned and reviled rules in its rule book would be another huge leap in the right direction toward bring INDYCAR's fullest potential to fruition.

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PAUL'S POINT:

Few rules in the current INDYCAR rule book have stirred as much controversy as the blocking rule that came to light last year when Helio Castroneves was denied victory at Edmonton.  The rule has been universally criticized by drivers, fans, and media as overreaching and against the spirit of racing, and it's widely considered one of the rules that must be done away with in 2012.  I’m not quite ready to make such a charge, though.

One of the main arguments for wiping the rule from the books is that it is a function of spec racing and the inherent lack of difference in the speeds of the cars.  With competition returning to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012, many feel it is no longer needed.  The problem is that there is no way of knowing at this stage whether there actually will be a significant variance in speeds next year.  With a single chassis, single aero kit, and a single tire manufacturer, the only difference will be in the engine compartment.  In the absence of a single shred of evidence to indicate significant performance variability between the incoming Hondas, Chevrolets, and Lotuses, to say that ease of passing is a foregone conclusion is a bit farfetched at this time.

I’ve also heard people lament that this rule is isolated to the IZOD IndyCar Series and would never be accepted elsewhere in the world.  That may be true, but that doesn’t mean INDYCAR is the only sanctioning body with rules specifically designed to encourage more exciting racing.  The most obvious example in North American racing is NASCAR’s lack of rules regarding on-course etiquette.  Essentially, NASCAR has said that if your car isn’t good enough to make a clean pass, simply knocking your competitor out of the way is an acceptable way to proceed.  After the festival of carbon fiber (credit to pressdog) at Toronto this year, INDYCAR fans very clearly voiced their displeasure over having a similar system allowed in the IICS.

Likewise, in Formula 1 where competition is king, their new Drag Reduction System (DRS, more commonly referred to as the adjustable rear wing) is more gimmick than anything and causes a bigger disadvantage to a leading car than INDYCAR’s blocking rule.  In the F1 races I’ve seen this year, the advantage of the trailing car appears to be about 10-15 mph, and while the leading car is not forced to yield the inside line, the speed differential is so great that the leading car, which cannot use the DRS, has almost zero chance of holding his position, even if the trailing car is forced to use the outside lane.  Not only does this leave the leading car almost no hope of maintaining position, the rule itself and the availability of the system is riddled with confusing conditions of when and where it can be used on the track.  Essentially, the same goal is accomplished in F1 as is INDYCAR -- the trailing car gets a free pass on the leading car.  INDYCAR gives the advantage by allowing the passing driver to use the inside line (though it is usually less-preferred and generally accepted to be slower).  F1 gives the passing driver the equivalent of about 100 extra horsepower.  It’s six of one, half dozen of another.

Finally, my personal opinion is that more than a few people are using the rule as simply another excuse to crucify Brian Barnhart when the evidence suggests that it isn't his rule at all. A couple of years ago, I was playing in a golf tournament at the Brickyard Crossing with a car owner who had operated under both Brian Barnhart and Tony Cotman.  When I asked him about the difference in the Race Control styles of the two, this owner explained that the biggest one was in their definitions of blocking.  Barnhart was known to have a more traditional definition: a leading car was able to make one move to the left or right to defend his position, and anything more was considered blocking.  Conversely, Cotman considered any deviation from the accepted racing line in an attempt to impede the progress of a following driver to be blocking.  It seems that the controversial rule fits Cotman’s reputation to a T, but most people continue to lay the fault for this rule at the feet of Barnhart.  In the end, it was Barnhart's decision to fold the rule into the INDYCAR rule book, and it's his decision to retain it and enforce it. But it doesn't appear that he was the genesis of it, so to use it as part of the Barnhart witch hunt is to refuse to give it objective consideration.

Regardless of whether INDYCAR develops a mechanical system that encourages passing on the road and street courses or simply continues to use the current blocking rule, everyone can no doubt agree that we'd like to see more passing.  While discussion on how to implement a somewhat more fair rule is warranted, I’m nowhere near ready to throw out the rule altogether -- at least, not yet.  At the end of a full year of racing with the 2012 INDYCAR and with time to evaluate its performance characteristics, next year's off-season would be a more appropriate time to discuss whether to retain this rule going forward.

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Paul Dalbey (@Fieldof33) and Steph Wallcraft (@99forever) are co-editors of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond. Reach them both at feedback@morefrontwing.com.

20 Comments

  1. 1 Raymond Wong 09 Nov
    I strongly suggest the no blocking rule should be abandon. Because defending the driver behind is part of the sport. wheel contact is dangerous, but it should be avoided by driver not the rules. if a driver cause a avoidable collision which make damage to the other car, we can penalize them.Squeeze other driver off the track should not be allowed as well,but if drivers have wheel contact which damage to the car because of defending, that mean they are not skillful enough. What i see now is so boring in indy road course race because there were no racing, people only drive around the circult.
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  3. 3 Kailee 24 Oct
    Hey, that post leaves me feeilng foolish. Kudos to you!
  4. 4 Nancy 28 Sep
    Much appreciated for the information and share! Nancy
  5. 5 Pete 04 Sep

    Get rid of the rule. I driver should be allowed to drive and that means executing whatever maneuver he or she can to stay ahead of the driver behind them. If a driver tends to cause an excessive number of crashes the sponsor will have something to say to them. Let the team control the driver not race control. To keep Indy car form becoming Nascar, stiff penalties should be employed for intentionally wrecking someone.

    BTW.. DRS has made passing quite exciting in F1. If the defending driver is fast enough he will have the benefit of DRS on the next lap by maintaining a less than 1 second gap.

  6. 6 Andre Nogueira 02 Sep

    The leading driver should be allowed to choose a lane. It should not be considered blocking as long as he/she sticks to that lane all the way down to the corner. Why would that be unsafe?

    At least we have to give the thumbs up to Indycar for not creating artificial technical advantages like the DRS in F1.That is a joke. Push-to-pass is ok because it is available to everyone.

  7. 7 Joe Bernard 02 Sep
    Holding a racing line is not blocking. Swerving back and forth is blocking. Period.
  8. 8 Racytalker 02 Sep
    I have done a fair amount of racing with SCCA, and a lot of track PA announcing. In every other road-racing series, the lead driver has the choice of line into the corner, and is allowed one move. This silly rule, and the stupid manner in which it is enforced, is one of the most infuriating things about watching an IndyCar race. There would have been far less crashing at Toronto if the lead driver hadn't had to leave his flank exposed to being hit by the overtaking car. Why no penalties for the drivers who punted the car in front?
  9. 9 M Reuter 02 Sep

    As
    one of the commentators pointed out at one race, I think this rule leads to
    some of the crashes we have seen this year. 
    The leading car stays wide going into the corner, to avoid the blocking
    rule, and the trailing car brakes later and arrives at the corner partially
    alongside the leading car.  At this point
    the leading car would need to take a wider apex to avoid cutting into the
    passing car’s line, but they almost never do – often because they don’t know
    the car is there.  So, you end up with
    the leading car and trailing car impacting sidepod to front wheel.  This would all be avoided if the leading car
    protected the inside line.

  10. 10 Aron 02 Sep

    Shocked at the responses.  This is probably the BEST rule and has contributed to more clean passes than any prime/option tire or push-to-pass gimmick ever has. The thinking on this board would have the winner driving a Ford F350 @ 40mph, crunching anyone who dared pull along side. Now that is stupid.

    Blocking is not racing. Blocking killed Dale Earnhardt and wrecks countless others in every series without this rule. Will Power had no problem with this rule at Sonoma. If you don't want to be passed, drive faster - don't swerve in front of people. Swerving is stupid. Blocking is stupid. Blocking is un-sportsman like. Its the tool of the meek. As for Helio (notorious blocker) & Giorgio: read the rule book. In the "glory days" of racing, drivers didn't block. Because if they collided, they died. You didn't need rules to protect people from the Satos and Conways (and formerly Marcos) of the world who think they're playing pinball. Talk to guys like Stirling Moss, David Hobbs, Dan Gurney - even Mario & AJ; drivers respected each other because there were consequences. In today's safe cars, drivers are more flippant about crashing and too many are comfortable crashing into each other trying to hold 21st place, 2 laps down - much less the lead. This rule forces that respect. The result is fewer deaths, fewer damaged race cars, and better racing.

  11. 11 Jim Smith 02 Sep
    The rule is stupid and has nothing to do with racing. The dumb way BB enforces it is even worse. Watch the video of the pass frame by frame and you will see that almost the entire time, Giorgio was on the same side of BB's imaginary line down the middle of the track. A small part of his tire MAy have straddled the line for a few feet but that is even iffy. He was not blocking the inside lane as there was still room for 2 Indycars on that half of the track the whole time. I don't even know where to start ranting about the placement of Jakes car in front of him on the restart! Who makes such an arbitrary decision? Are you saying that the 6th place car has no chance to win so block him? In the double file starts the 6th place car is only 2 spots from the lead! PLEASE fire him while I am still willing to spend my sponsorship dollars in the league.
  12. 12 Joe Bernard 02 Sep

    The rule is ridiculous, and so is DRS in F1. I'm sure I'll continue to watch Indycar on television because, well, I watch ALL racing, but I won't attend another event, and won't re-up for Indycar Nation until this farce is removed from the rulebook.

    Race Control is OUT of control. I was at Infineon, and they robbed me of a real racing finish. Jakes' car was shuffled out of line to clear the Penske and Ganassi teams on the final restart, and Pantano's pass was deemed "didn't happen". I'm sick of it. Cotman and Barnhart owe me money for misrepresenting what I purchased a ticket for. What I saw at Infineon was not racing. You wanna see real racing at Sonoma? Come for the NASCAR event. That's just sad.

  13. 13 Denrace 02 Sep

    The responsibility for a safe pass is with the car/driver behind....always. The driver who is potentially to be passed should be penalized only for unsafe driving.

    This rule is just one step shy of full-scale slot car racing.

  14. 14 Birdie 02 Sep
    This rule is ridiculous.  Helio did win at Edmonton last year  the best driver who can block someone from passing safely is the better driver an that is racing.  Give helio his win back and pantano his 6th place.
  15. 15 Ken 01 Sep
    I believe that the current rule leaves a lot to be desired and is often overlooked by the officials... unless of course someone could complain requiring them to enforce the rule.  I think that if two cars are battling for position, just about anything should be allowed short of actual contact of course, or forcing another car into a wall.  So to me, the pass made by Pantano at the end of the Sonoma race was a legitimate and well made pass.  This rule needs to be modified/changed, made very clear, and then enforced evenly across the board.  Sorry Paul, but have to agree with Steph on this one.  If one car is obviously blocking (such as for a team mate, or weaving back and forth to prevent a pass), then nail them with a penalty.  Otherwise, let them race!
  16. 16 NaBUru38 01 Sep

    Folks, you are missing one point: the rule is meant to prevent snoozefests. If drivers could take the inside line at every braking spot, some races on narrow, tight courses (Long Beach, Barber, Sears Point) could get very boring, since the attacking driver would have very little to do to try an overtake.

     I'm not sure what I prefer, this stupid no-defending rule or boring no-overtake races.

  17. 17 J 01 Sep

    They shouldn't even allow this rule to be in place this weekend, let alone next season. Racing in it's purest form is finding the fastest way around a track and navigating the traffic that stands in your way. If you want to create a rule for passing, it should simply be "don't wreck the car you're trying to pass." Plain and simple

    Fact 1: The rule, as it's written, obviously hasn't served it's purpose because we still have collisions on road courses. Matter of fact, as long as there is racing, there will be collisions. Therefore, let's bring a little purity back to the sport and allow the leader the right to defend and the follower the right to attack.

    Fact 2: Fans and drivers HATE this rule and it has caused nothing but controversy and discontent when enforced. That is reason enough to set pride aside and X this rule out of the book.

  18. 18 a Race fun 31 Aug

    Simply, I was impressed by Pantano's move. And disappointed with penalty... He did show us a "racing".

    I still cannot understand why Helio was penalized on Edmonton last year. I know safety is important, but both of the move didn't look like dangerous at all. I hope we can watch much exciting street/road race 2012 with new engines, cars and RULES!!

  19. 19 Ryan Mahle 31 Aug

    The way I look at it this rule is stupid. Helio Won Edmonton, and Pantano was 6th at Sonoma. Period. What they did in both cases was not dangerous, and pretty much accepted as the correct way to do things. What happened in turn 3 in toronto was a direct result of this stupid rule. Guys diving up the inside like that because they know that line will be open.. but then bam.. they can't stay inside and bam, carbon fibre all over the place.

    I do feel that this rule needs to go spec series or not. If these are "the Best Drivers in the World" (as the marketing dept. claims) then they should be able to make clean passes without any help from Race Control, and if they can't... then they should go back to Karts. 

    I won't comment on DRS because I think comparing F1 to Indy is like Comparing NASCAR Cup to Winged Sprint Cars. 

    That's just my 2cents. 

  20. 20 Will Mazeo 31 Aug

    This rule makes no sense. It's worse than the way F1 uses the DRS.

    Let the guys race... what IndyCar is doing now it's a shame for motorsport.

    I'm just waiting to see how will be next year. I won't watch IndyCar again if it stays.

    Steph or Paul tell Tony Cotman to watch Formula Nippon please, they block without mercy and the races are freaking cool! Passing is not all in a race, someone with a slower car being a hero defending his position is also cool to watch.

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