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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

What’s the Point?
2/18/04

Athens, NY—After dodging the shrapnel and fluids ejected by grenading Mercedes, Cosworth, and Honda engines/gearboxes for nearly four hours one extremely hot August afternoon in the mid-Nineties, both Hiro Matsushita and Dennis Vitolo were finally rewarded for their ride-buying stick-to-itiveness by having their names printed on that season’s PPG Cup Championship Points Board despite finishing several laps off the winner’s pace, as usual.

Actually, by modern-day Champ Car World Series standards, the pair’s eleventh and twelfth place finishes at Michigan that day would have paid some serious points—19 to be exact—instead of the measly three units split by the best back-markers that CART had to offer back then.

And please keep in mind that ‘King Hiro’s and Dennis the Menace’s feat was accomplished as members of a 25-car grid that included the likes of front-running champions named Unser, Andretti, Fittipaldi, and Rahal along with field-fillers like Villeneuve, de Ferran, Fabi, Pruett, Luyendyk, and Tracy.

Speaking of Paul Tracy, this is what the reigning Champ had to say about OWRS’ recently announced points rule change:

“I think this is a good move for the series and will help the drivers a lot. If you’ve had a day that would have left you out of the points, now you can still get something out of it. It is going to be a very competitive series this year and good finishes are going to be harder to come by so this makes what would have been a bad day, not so bad a day.”

Et tu PT? You’re usually first to acknowledge that even the second place race finisher is merely the first loser. What would you have said if the new points menu had eliminated payments for all except, say, the top seven finishers?

But don’t get me wrong. While there are mixed emotions about the new points system, even this renegade scribe endorses retaining those extra points for the top qualifier(s) and the addition of new incentives for lap leaders and the race’s fastest lapper. At least the latter are interesting pro-active ways to fire up drivers and fans.

The rest, boys and girls, is way too much math. Consider this worst-case scenario:

If the ’04 season is as competitive as Paul Tracy believes it will be and if it comes down to the wire and, in the last race of the year, the new champion ices the V-Cup with an easy three points for a dead-last-in-an-18-car-field “finish” because his closest competitor was nursing a practice session concussion and was unable to start…

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Champ Car Technical Director Lee Dykstra recently announced that the mandatory pit-stop rule has also been adjusted for 2004:

“We really wanted to do something that allows the teams more flexibility in their race strategies and also [will] allow them to take advantage of the new point system. At the same time, we needed a system that discourages fuel-economy runs and challenges the drivers, and we think we have been able to accomplish that.”

How will Mr. Dykstra’s dream be accomplished?

Teams will be required to perform either two or three green-flag stops during a race and must have those stops completed by a certain point in the event. Champ Car Racing Operations will determine the number and at what point those stops must be completed prior to the race weekend. All green-flag stops must include a four-tire change in order to meet the series requirements.

Having bemoaned the fact in last week’s missive that “With Champ Car teams possessing some of the savvy-est strategists on earth, stifling the creativity of this combined brain trust is tantamount to cutting a huge slab of the fan-interest pie out of the racing equation,” it is now somewhat heartening, not even a week later, to see the new Champ Car Company climbing on board the pro-strategy train.

Nonetheless, what we have here is yet another case of way too much math.

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Finally, it saddens me to bid farewell to seventhgear.com.

When 7G arrived on the scene the CART community finally had a non-Indy based haven for venting its opinions of our beloved speed sport. If not for its originator, JP Johnson, such disparate ranting heads as Mark Cippoloni and yours truly would not have had a springboard from which to launch—if nothing else—prolific writing careers.

Yes, I had some run-ins with those who succeeded JPJ, but I’m happy to say that all hatchets were buried years ago. I’m truly sorry that, like another of my alma maters, ChampCar Magazine, one more once-great Champ Car racing institution has gone the way of the racing series that spawned it.

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

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