OP-Ed – Standing vs. Flying Starts

If you listened to this last week’s episode of the Openpaddock.net Podcast, you will know there was intense debate between the crew on standing and flying starts. I was all for implementing a standing start for the IZOD IndyCar Series, while my partners in crime were against it. I was also having the same debate with Mr. Dalbey from More Front Wing. The only other person that I have read who agrees with my stand is Robin Miller. That is a small victory though because he said he could go either way. Hopefully in this article I will be able to make my point and please remember this is just my opinion on the matter. Feel free to post your comments below and tell me just how wrong I am. This is also not an overreaction to St. Pete. I understand that St. Pete is popular for T1 crashes but this also happened last year in Brazil.

Flying Starts

First we will look at the business as usual approach. Flying starts are very popular in American motorsport. Look at both NASCAR, INDYCAR, and ALMS. The top series here in the states. All three use flying starts to begin their races and it has been this way through most of history. It is an exciting way to start the race as the cars come barreling into turn one. The sense of speed is there and overtaking maneuvers are present. Unfortunately, with that sense of speed and overtaking, you have a high crash rate. The street circuit in Brazil, anytime the cars got to St. Pete are just two easy examples to pull from memory. I am not asking to toss the history book out by any means. I also think this is a bit less on the history books as well. If INDYCAR decided to go to a standing start, we would not have such a backlash like completely altering the month of May structure. Also, it is only for the start of the race. We would still get the double file flying restarts and regardless of what one thinks about them, they were the least of the issues at St. Pete. The flying start was the issue that cost so many great race cars.

Standing Starts

Here is my position. I think that flying starts are a better choice for the start of the road/street courses. I am fully aware that a standing start that takes place on an oval is ridiculous. The standing start offers a couple of benefits. First is the safety issue. While we can say all day that we have the safest cars in the world, it does not change the fact that nothing is bullet proof. Bad things can happen on a standing start, but you are still taking steps to mitigate a car on its top or a driver nearly being decapitated. See Marco Andretti for both incidents. So I don’t buy the “safe” car approach. Second, the point has been made about trusting the drivers to start the race. See exhibit A. St. Pete saw a handful of cars taken out in the first corner. While they are fine racing drivers and far superior to anything I could even hope to become, they do not handle flying starts overly well. The standing start requires driver skill to get started and offers for some unique overtaking oppurtunities. You will not see a standing start parade into turn one. Are standing starts practical for these dated machines? No. Road/street courses are not practical either in these pigs, but they make it work. I would rather see the rule implemented in the 2012 season where we will have cars that can perform the start properly. Slower turn one entry speed equals better reaction time as compared to the flying start where there is none. Which in turn may save more race cars.

I am not trying to turn the IICS into a european series, but F1 does use it and it does work. Yeah sure there is still contact at some races, but that will always be present. The purpose of the standing start is to not eliminate crashes 100% but offer the drivers a better chance of surviving and being able to react to an incident. As St. Pete proved, flying starts do not offer that reaction and we had a group of drivers upset because they all thought they could win the race in turn one. Remember boys and girls, a 100 lap race is a marathon…not a one turn shootout. My points on each start are brief, but I am more interested in your opinion. Should the IICS move to a standing start in 2012? Or should we continue the flying starts that have produced a number of angry fans? Let us know below.

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6 Thoughts to “OP-Ed – Standing vs. Flying Starts

  1. Olofsson917

    If the series is committed to the double file restart, and it appears that it is, then I’m in agreement, go to the standing start. The start of a race should differ from the half dozen or so restarts that are sure to follow in any race. If Champ Car and some of the lower formula in Europe can do it, IndyCar can certainly pull it off.

  2. I think switching from flying to standing starts sends the wrong message to drivers, fans, and critics. What you’re saying is effectively, “We don’t believe that you, the drivers, are competent enough to handle flying starts, so we’re making you do standing ones instead.” I understand that there is a significant amount of skill required to execute a standing start well, and I’m not saying that there isn’t, but think of how detractors of IndyCar will bounce such a move off of the “Best Drivers In The World” motto.

    Its good to see standing starts in some series. The starts in the SCCA World Challenge and Star Mazda Championship are exciting, but so too are the flying starts in IndyCar and all three of the Le Mans-based series. What is needed here is for professional drivers to be, well, professional! A number of drivers, including Dario Franchitti have made similar remarks this past week, that the drivers themselves need to do a better job of approaching the start. There have been multiple times when standing starts were bungled due to drivers not giving respect. Remember Ralph?

    One thing the league could do, and do immediately, to aid the situation is to mandate that the field form up much earlier. At St. Pete, the field didn’t form up 2×2 until they were on the front stretch, which was way too late. Rather, have them form up and run the final pace lap in the 2×2 configuration. That way everyone is in place and ready to race when the green flag falls. Also, skip this business about no passing until the SF line. When the green flag waves, go racing!

  3. Did ya’ll see the video from the LMS race at Paul Ricard? The pace car brought the field around for the green, the lights went green, and the pace car was still on the track…..

    The front of the LMP field did not “start” since they could see the pace car, while the GT field started as normal since they could not see the pace car and were not told over the radio…. so the GT field crashed into the back of the LMP field and mass calamity ensued….

  4. Steve

    I agree with Doug, the field needs to form 2×2 on the last lap, well before the final turn onto the front straight. It’s clear that the field was far too strung out in single file for the back of the pack to catch up and form up properly. What I fail to see is how that will work at Long Beach. The distance at LB from the hairpin to the s/f line is 150-200 ft shorter than from the exit of T14 to the s/f line at St. Pete–it will be only about 900 ft from the hairpin to the accelerate/green flag line, so if the pole sitter is traveling 60 mph average, it would take only 10 seconds from the time the pole car exits the hairpin to when the green drops. I cannot imagine that the field can make it 2×2 through the hairpin, nor can 26 cars run through the hairpin single file and form up in 10 seconds…especially “in the heat of the moment.” A standing start would alleviate that. I’d bet if they can’t do a better job of it at Barber this weekend, there is no way we’ll see a nice pack at the green flag in LB.

  5. Doug,

    While I agree that standing starts can be dangerous (see your picture), those type of incidents are rare. You are still mitigating risk by going to the standing start. Nothing is ever 100% fool proof, but the slower entry speeds into T1 can allow the driver a better chance of making it. Also, you could say that the HCN/Marco incident would have happened on a standing start as HCN punted Marco into the lead cars. By using the standing start, the cars are going slower, so the distance Marco would have been punted would not have been as great. Maybe taking 1 car or at worse, 2 cars…not 5.

    As far as trusting the drivers…can you? You are asking 26 raging drivers to show respect on the moment of the race where you can make the most positions up. Not gonna happen. Especially seeing as the field is still not 100% grade A talent. I think the drivers should be asked to perform a standing start on road/street courses only to show they have that skill in their tool kit. Anyone can go down a flying start and it truly is a gamble if you are going to make it out. The standing forces the drivers to start (not stall) and make their way into T1. You can make up positions if you start well and certainly lose them if you don’t. Allows a more controlled overtaking environment. So if you asked me straight up as we type…Do you trust the drivers to start the race 2×2 without crashing? My answer would be no…no i don’t.

    @Steve brings up a good point. 2×2 is going to be tough at a place such as Long Beach. Any start seems to be tough at Long Beach, but I truly think the standing start is the way forward for the series and I don’t think the series will lose much identity over the switch.

    @Mike, that start was hilarious and yielded the worst possible result. The Audi looked like he was under the influence of some Absolute! Swerving all over the place with nowhere to go. Chaos followed and a lot of top running GT cars were taken out as a result. Note: Never let Scott Goodyear drive the pace car or that may happen. 🙂

  6. John J.

    While I am a fan of the rolling starts we use here in the states, there certainly is an excitement about the F1 standing starts. On either one, however, the drivers must exercise restraint and judgment – just because there is a hole inside where you can make it three-wide doesn’t mean you should. While I felt bad that Marco was taken out on the first turn of the race, he has nobody to blame but himself. He never should have tried that three-wide move into a narrow corner. Until he learns that, Marco will remain what he is – someone running on his father and grandfather’s reputations.

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