INSIGHT: How, and whether, to improve IndyCar push-to-pass

Image by Michael Levitt/LAT

INSIGHT: How, and whether, to improve IndyCar push-to-pass

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: How, and whether, to improve IndyCar push-to-pass


One of the talking points over last weekend’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America was how IndyCar’s push-to-pass feature could better serve the NTT IndyCar Series.

The current system is run on both road and street circuits, with the amount carried varying based on the size of the track. For instance, with this past Sunday’s race being a 4.014-mile, 14-turn permanent road course, the drivers had 200 seconds of a roughly 60-hp boost at their disposal at any time for the 55-lap event.

The main source of difficulty is the fact it not only serves as a way to attack, but defend as well, and that is something Team Penske driver Will Power would like to see changed.

“They could fix that so easy with a no reply push-to-pass system, you’d just have some serious battles out there,” said Power. “I just think the push to pass system is wrong. Either give us a lot less so you don’t reply every time, or you have a no reply system. Right now you’ve got so much, as soon as you hear on the radio, ‘He’s on it,’ you’re on it. He is on it, you’re on it. You’re on it on your in-laps and you’re on it on your out-laps. Everyone is doing the same.

“So, for me, we don’t have push-to-pass. You may as well not have it if everyone can reply, and you have a guy on the radio every time someone clicks it, you’ll click it. It used to be 10 clicks. You were very sparing. You had to be sure the guy was going to get you to click it. People would save some. Guys would have less at the end.

“For me, we don’t have push-to-pass. You may as well not have it if everyone can reply,” Power reckons. Image by Michael Levitt/LAT

“Right now they’ve just given you a whole bunch and everyone just uses it all the time. You can use two seconds, which helps you. I think it’s the wrong strategy.”

Although knowing the exact moment someone is on the button is difficult, it is easy to tell when the object in the mirror is larger than it first appeared.

“You can tell someone is getting a run, absolutely,” continued Power. “You can’t tell someone is on it. I guess you look, you can tell when someone’s got a run on you. Bonk, you’ll hit it. Keep looking. Unclick it, click it again. You should only have one hit, one chance — bang, you’ve wasted a whole one.

“Then you’re really thinking. Or the guy can’t reply. Something like that. Right now, because everyone has so much experience with it, everyone uses it in such a good way. It’s not good for the fans. This track (Road America), in particular, I thought, ‘Man, you could have such an awesome battle if you had a no reply system.’”

In fact, the “no reply” system Power refers to is actually used in Indy Lights, the top rung of the three-tier Road to Indy which serves as the development series to IndyCar. The format in Indy Lights, which is a 50-hp boost, also carries an all-important caveat that a driver must be within a one-second gap of the car in front.

Indy Lights plays the P2P game the way Power would prefer. Image by Road to Indy

Current NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Josef Newgarden understands Team Penske teammate Power’s perspective, but also shared some slightly different thoughts.

“I don’t know that (the current push-to-pass is) obsolete,” said Newgarden.
“It’s still a game that you’re playing, still about how you manage it throughout the race. I definitely get Will’s point. I think if you really want to increase passing, then that’s one way to do it, is to have no response for the car in front. You’ll definitely see a lot more passing, but there’s a fine line. Some people might look at that and say, ‘It’s gimmicky.’

“I like that you have to manage push-to-pass throughout the race. I find it to be an interesting thing for the drivers to manage throughout. It does come into effect. If you used it all up (and) one guy behind you has a lot more, it won’t favor you towards the end of the race. I don’t think it’s a no-brainer now where it’s evened up between everybody. Yeah, there are things that could increase the passing like that, but so could a system like DRS in F1. I think that’s what it sort of does. There are two sides to it, probably, on that discussion.”

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who waxed the field with a dominating victory at Road America to move within seven points of Newgarden in the title race, is an advocate of the existing IndyCar product. However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t in favor of tweaking things for the sake of improvement. It’s just a matter of how.

“Obviously I agree,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion. “I think Will has a valid point. We pride ourselves on the product we produce on the track. That’s without any type of stages or crazy things going on. I think, as always, we can work on it and fine-tune it.

“I don’t know that any of us have the exact solution, though.”