Q: I’ve started reading through the Mailbag and the myriad comments about green/white/checkered finishes. I feel that IndyCar got it right, not just for the obvious TV/damage/500 not 505 reasons, but purely as a matter of fairness to the leader. Whenever the yellow flag is flown the leaders’ hard work is eradicated immediately, and the second car is right on their gearbox.
Further, the current rules (unfairly) remove lapped traffic with 15 laps to go on a superspeedway, which means the work that Sato did to put the lapped car between him and Dixon would also be undone. That’s a double blow, and really unfitting for a major international sporting event. Surely purity of competition should take precedence over attempts at “spicing up the show”, and this rule that gets rid of the lapped traffic has no place in what is probably the most famous motor race in the world.
Thomas Warren, Sydney, Australia
RM: Totally agree Thomas, but I guess the important question is, would more people watch if they always knew the race would have one shot at finishing under green? I don’t think so, but it’s probably worth IndyCar discussing with its owners.
Q: As far as red flags go, I completely agree with running out Indy under yellow. It was obvious to me that NBC could not keep a broadcast window open for an indefinite amount of time to repair the pit wall end. Whether the current design of the attenuator strikes an optimal balance between safety and ease of repair will no doubt be analyzed by Admiral Penske and his staff in the days ahead.
My first 500 was in 1980. Back in the USAC days, I recall a sign reading “TEN” being manually displayed from the old sign board area at the start-finish line with ten laps to go. I mention this because it is my view that once Lap 190 is completed (and a modern version of the “TEN” sign is displayed to the field), the only reasons the red flag should be displayed would be: (1) an accident causing complete blockage of the track (debris or fire), (2) an accident throwing significant debris into the seating area, or (3) a pit-lane fire. I hate the fact that so many Indy “fans“ have apparently been lobotomized by the Green-White-Checker Disease cooked up in NASCAR’s laboratory.
Mike Matisko, Newburgh, IN
RM: Prior to 1964, the race had never been red-flagged and it happened again in 1966 – both for multi-car accidents. That was the original intent: only stop if the track was blocked, or drivers and fans needed medical assistance like in 1973. The three times races have been red-flagged in this decade were to try and ensure a green-flag finish, and I guess I have no problem with that if there are 15 laps to go. But with only four I totally get not stopping the race – especially with the TV and fence circumstances at Indy this year.
Q: In racing, the red flag is thrown for safety, not for spectator satisfaction. Some races are a certain length and yellow flag laps don’t count; most sprint car or midget races for example. Others are set to a length that is set by time, like some sports car races. It’s the 24 hours of Daytona regardless of a yellow, and then it’s not 24 hours and two more laps! And then there are races that are set by who can travel a certain distance in the least amount of time. That would be, oh I don’t, say a 500-mile race. As some folks mentioned, that’s not a 505- or 515-mile race.
Jim Patton, Lindale, TX
RM: Isn’t it amazing that Rick Mears won the 1984 Indy 500 by two laps and the race finished under caution and nobody bitched?
Q: I will add my opinion to the red flag controversy. The right call was made. No one likes a race, especially the Indy 500, to end under caution. But a G-W-C is a fraud. About 30 years ago, I had the privilege to meet Rodger Ward, and asked him why, in his classic 1960 duel with Rathmann, with his tires worn, he didn’t just cruise behind Rathmann until the last two laps and then go for the lead?
He told me that he went for the lead with six laps to go because of the possibility of an accident causing the race to end under yellow. So, he took the lead and hoped he could hold off Rathmann for the win. His increased pace caused his tires to wear even faster and Rathmann regained the lead on Lap 197 and won. The point is, strategy has always played a big part in the 500. Whether Dixon was waiting a couple of laps to go for the lead, or was trying and just couldn’t just get there, is immaterial.
A 500-mile race is just that, 500 miles, and race strategies need to consider the possibility of a yellow-flag finish.
Peter, Gainesville, VA
RM: That’s a cool story from Ward, and some insight into a driver’s mentality for most of Indy’s history. Race and fuel strategy is based on 500 miles, so is it fair to the teams who got it right to be penalized with laps added and a free pit stop before resuming the race? A couple owners are convinced IndyCar has to adapt GWC in the interest of television, but I’m not sure that has any bearing on whether people tune in or not.
Q: Thank you for your work in fielding all the crap just so the fans can have some insight on the sport we love. My favorite letter last week was from Jim Mulcare. He said in part, “The Indy 500 is 500 miles. Not 505, or 510. To me that says it all, IndyCar doesn’t need any gimmicks to keep its fans. So my question is when is a red flag thrown? My experience through the years is, when the track or barriers are damaged and unsafe, or the track is blocked by debris.
Jack, Ft Myers, FL
RM: Up until 2012, it had only been used in the event of a blocked track from a big wreck, and that was its purpose. But Beaux Barfield wanted the championship to be decided under the green, so he stopped Fontana. He did it again in 2014 at Indy with seven laps remaining, and Kyle Novak followed suit last year with 18 laps left. There is no rule per se, but a red flag is up to the discretion of the Race Director and the situation.