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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

An un-Qualified Success
8/10/02

LEXINGTON, OHIO—If you accept the official canned Fan Forum version of CART’s new qualifying format just as it was expressed by the absent Commander-in-Chief through General John Lopes, then you are, most likely, happy with the bold move that supposedly took most of the control of the Champ Car qualifying process out of the hands of self-aggrandizing team owners and their even more fiercely selfish drivers and placed it squarely in the hands of what is supposedly a more objective and fan-oriented sanctioning body, where it supposedly belongs.

If you are primarily a TV-watching fan of the FedEx Championship Series you may have noticed the highly touted silver lining in the hour-long sessions’ cloud that contain — at best — half an hour of actual cutthroat Champ Car action. That silver lining is the opportunity to see Beekhuis, Daly and Fish file more technical reports, fluff-filled PR pieces and personality interviews in a single race weekend than the previous broadcast team filed in a whole season.

The new “hurry up and wait” qualifying program isn’t even all that fan unfriendly at street course events because you can check out the giant screen TV during the silence for close-up shots of drivers who have actually donned their balaclavas and helmets and are strapped in and ready to roll. There are also urban landmarks like the Queen Mary and CN Tower to gawk at plus plenty of cosmopolitan eye candy to keep you occupied.

But when you’re on a grassy knoll being burnt to a crisp by the blazing sun at a natural terrain road course like this one at Mid-Ohio, it’s downright boring having to stand around for half an hour or more while the locals swill Millers to the tune of two shirtless guys throwing wobbly football passes at each other to help pass the time and break the ennui.

The only Champ Car seen or heard for the first 40 minutes of the Friday session was Supersub Mad Max Papis taking some needed laps in his effort to shake down the first Honda powered machine he’d ever driven. In the quietude, all you would generally hear was the incessant blathering of two guys who were given the keys to the announce booth after making a deal with the promoters to be paid by the word. If you think Derek Daly hasn’t ever heard of minimalism you certainly would not have wanted to be an earwitness to these two guys’ verbosity marathon!

Something that we were all reminded of by Adrian Fernandez’ managing partner, Tom Anderson, at Fan Forum:

One of the reasons that teams wait until the last possible minute before beginning to use their allotted 15 maximum qualifying laps is that every time a car makes a circuit of the track more rubber is laid down on the racing line. Waiting just a few minutes for other guys to qualify first could make a difference in adhesion that might add as much as a tenth-of-a-second advantage over a prematurely qualifying driver — without engineering any other changes to your car!

Personally, I like the awarding of a championship point to the fastest qualifier in both the Friday and Saturday sessions and that Friday’s “pole sitter” is guaranteed a front row start. It is also much fairer and potentially less controversial now that everyone has the opportunity to qualify in the same group, if not at the same time. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that paying customers who come to see an hour of qualifying should be given an hour of qualifying.

Here is my suggestion for eliminating down time, getting some extra rubber laid down and generally tweaking Grandpa Chris’ qualifying rules to near perfection: Begin each qualifying session with 15 minutes of drivers’ “free time” — open practice — before starting to officially time their 15 maximum allowed hot laps. Make it mandatory for drivers to visit the pits for at least a stop-and-go before coming back out to qualify.

Copyright © 2002 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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