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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

CART Rules?
1/1/03

ATHENS, NY—For sure, the biggest challenge facing drivers in 2003 will be the mapping of a strategy that allows them to get their own team and primary sponsors’ names into the same sentence with the phrase Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford during an impromptu interview. After that, it should all be pretty easy as a result of CART simplifying its tech specs and tweaking its rules to achieve the desired effect—uniformity.

The newly amended ’03 rules package already has Thinking Men’s Racers and Brain Trusters alike cringing over the creativity-neutering effects of the new rules and specs. Even a company man like John Oreovicz couldn’t resist this comment in a recent CART.com report:

“The biggest surprise to come from the [12/23/02 CART Franchise Board rules] meeting was the news that the mandatory pit stop window implemented in 2002 will remain. That rule was instituted a year ago to prevent drivers from adjusting their fuel mixture in an attempt to win races via fuel economy. The 2003 Ford-Cosworth engine package takes away the mixture adjustment from the drivers and was expected to result in the elimination of the pit window rule, which often proved cumbersome and confusing…”

It will be quite interesting to see if any of Champ Car racing’s master strategists will be able to overcome cookie cutter-ism before fan ennui sets in. Or will CART merely react periodically to those who find the racer’s edge by tightening the rules even tighter?

If you haven’t read about the new rules changes yet or if—like me—you found them a bit confusing at first scan, here is my humble attempt to better categorize them and to make them read more easily…

Testing: Every team will have 11 testing days regardless of the number of cars they run. Teams must use three of those 11 allocated days for CART-sanctioned open tests (i.e., Spring Training) and must have used at least five of their testing days prior to May 1. The three remaining days may be used on a discretionary basis. CART specified testing blackout dates are to be announced.

Teams running rookies will be granted extra testing days—at the Chief Steward’s discretion—but such tests will not be allowed at facilities that will host upcoming events.

Technical: With Ford-Cosworth XFE spec engines power-regulated to approximately 750 horsepower, the speed-reducing Handford Device(s) will be retired. CART will re-introduce its pre-Handford Era road course aero package at short oval tracks like Milwaukee in an effort to make the Champ Cars more “race-able” (i.e., encourage passing).

Similarly, superspeedway races will revert to the wing package used prior to 1998. However, it is easy to predict decreased passing and lead changes at Fontana in the absence of Mark Handford’s rear wing.

Friday Qualifying (Road Course and Temporary Circuits): There will be two 50-minute practice sessions punctuated by 50 minutes of down time during which absolutely no on-track activity will be allowed. Thus, teams will now be given more time to derive their basic setups before the often-incompatible rubber compounds of support series are thrown into the mix.

In both Friday and Saturday road course qualifying, the amount of guaranteed green flag time has been reduced from 30 to 25 minutes to further discourage teams from prolonged waiting in the pits prior to making their runs. It is also hoped that the extra five minutes will help CART to better achieve “time-certain” race weekend scheduling.

Saturday Qualifying (Road Course and Temporary Circuits): Unchanged.

Oval Qualifying: Only the determination of the order in which drivers will qualify has been modified. If more than 60 minutes of practice time has been logged prior to Saturday’s qualifying session, then the qualifying order will be determined by practice speeds—the slowest drivers, as usual, will qualify ahead of the fastest. If there has been less than an hour of practice prior to the session, then the order of qualifying will be based on drivers’ current Championship standings—lowest ranked drivers will qualify ahead of the points leaders.

Odds ‘n Ends:

  • If a red flag occurs in qualifying with less than two minutes left in the session, the time clock will start when the first car crosses the finish line at speed.
  • Stewards now have more flexibility when assessing pit lane rule infractions such as speeding or entry/exit violations. Penalties may be lessened or eliminated if a CART official judges that a competitor did not gain an advantage through his indiscretion.
  • CART stewards now have the option of declaring a race “official” before half the distance is run. Should that occur, however, only half of the championship points will be allotted (i.e., 10 points for a win).
  • The Franchise Board meeting also named a seven-man Technical Advisory Committee, which will address technical issues and work toward finalizing specifications for the all-new 2005 cars. Also, a five-man Safety Advisory Committee will analyze areas for improvement in cars and circuits.

Obviously, the “Odds ‘n Ends” category contains what CART hopes will be the fixes needed to help avoid repeating the biggest fiascos of the ’02 season. Nonetheless, that new red flag rule seems equally as ambiguous as the one it replaces.

As for giving Chris Kneifel and his crew more interpretive discretion during races: You can bet that a major brouhaha, if not a lawsuit, will result from at least one incident in which a driver is given special stewards’ consideration for a transgression and then he goes on to finish ahead of another driver who received a penalty from the same rule enforcers for a similar infraction.

And not to beat a dead Deep Throttle horse, but would Mario Dominguez have secured ROY honors if his Surfers Paradise “win” had counted for only 10 Championship points? For that matter, would Townsend Bell have been chastised by CART and ultimately banished from Patrick Racing had Chris the Knife allowed him an extra rookie test day or two?

Fill in the blank: Rules are meant to be __________.

Copyright © 2003 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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