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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

Open-pit Cookin’
8/18/04

Athens, NY—In an official pre-Denver announcement Senior Vice President of Operations John Lopes proclaimed that Champ Car World Series pit stop rules would, yet again, be immediately changed. This caused an instantaneous effect similar to that of a magic wand being waved over last Sunday’s race and, most likely, over every future Champ Car event.

“Our paramount objective is to put on a show on the track that encourages passing and is fair to competitors. Also, we want to encourage different race strategies because that enables the television commentators to speculate and discuss strategies for their viewers.”

Fortunately for Lopes, the spin he put on his department’s latest rules waffle was exactly the way things panned out for the fans in Denver and for their TV-watching counterparts—which was very much in contrast with the two street parades held in the Mile High City prior to this ‘04 race.

Assisted at least in part by not having to create, participate in, and/or overcome genius pit strategy, pole-sitter Sebastien Bourdais made a Zanardi-esque recovery from P13 to the winner’s circle after a first-lap spin that was the result of a tussle with his teammate, Bruno Junqueira. That the two Newman-Haas drivers’ feud came to a head in Denver merely added to the excitement of a well promoted, well attended event.

Plain and simple, Bourdais’ drive was a brilliant exhibition by a championship caliber pilot that was, thankfully, untainted by excessive rulebook gimmickry.

While purists may consider P2P an unnecessary gimmick it is, at least, distributed equally among the entire field and it does promote creative team and driver strategy. Nonetheless, if every Champ Car engine were not prepared “identically,” push-to-pass would be not only a cheap gimmick but a travesty as well. In either case, to say the least, P2P is expendable.

Back to the new pit stop rule. It consists of a single mandatory service that must include a four-tire change to be accomplished during a fairly wide-open window between mid-race and the finish. Particularly interesting and raciness provoking, mandatory pit stops can now be done during green or yellow flag conditions.

The latest orders issued to the Champ Car teams by West Pointer Lopes amount, in essence, to a field general sending out the word to “fire at will” within his theatre of operations. Nearly everyone, including CCWS’ rule-making brain trust, realized that the previous pit stop rules were unnecessarily complicated and creativity stifling, which obviously prompted Lopes to say:

“At the end of the day, our philosophy is (that) we want to make rules that are minimally intrusive on the racing. We think (that) by having only the one pit window in the final two thirds of the race that some guys will take off at the start, others will try to save fuel, and the last segment will be all about speed.”

However, hedging his bets, Lopes double-spoke: “Although I expect us to stay with this rule for a while, we won’t hesitate to change to get it right.”

So now we can only hope that the stellar success of the pit rule’s debut has, finally, sealed that deal.

Although Sebastien Bourdais has, thus far, been the class of the field and has certainly earned his position as the points leader in the championship standings, waving a magic wand waved over the current points system—changing it back to what it was prior to 2004—ought to be the next re-ruling item on John Lopes’ agenda.

Road Rage! An op-ed feature by Ed Donath.

Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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