Tuesday, 9 March 2010

NASCAR & Carl Edwards: Sometimes I Despair

Sometimes I think that the people that make important decisions are not the same as you or I.

Sometimes I am completely sure of it.

Today was one of those times.

Since Sunday afternoon the media and fans alone have been campaigning for punishment, or otherwise, for Carl Edwards’ rush of blood in the waning laps of the NASCAR race at Atlanta.

Some called for him to be parked for a race or two, others a fine or a points deduction, others that he should be stopped from practicing at Bristol in two weeks.

What I saw no calls for was what actually happened.

A three race probation.

Three races when Carl has to not deliberately wreck someone. Well, at least not when anyone is looking, and even then you’ll probably be able to explain your way out of any further penalty. It is a punishment that will not have a single impact on Carl Edwards, his team and their season.

There is not a single thing about that decision that makes any sense.

Carl used his car as a weapon to deliberately put a fellow racer in danger. OK, so he didn’t mean to put him in as much danger as he ultimately ended up in, but if you caused the situation you should pay the penalty for the consequences, no matter how dire and unexpected.

Carl was 150 laps down on Keselowski at the time, two laps from the end of the race. Carl had just taken the last position he could before the race would end, having surpassed the number of laps completed by David Reutimann. There is no way Carl did not realise that there was nothing to gain from the final laps, other than revenge. That makes the fact Mike Helton believes that Carl being parked two laps early was a worthwhile penalty all the more unbelievable.

NASCAR has made a huge deal out of their safety advances in recent years. Their championing of the HANS device following a number of on-track tragedies, the SAFER barrier, the safety minded COT, with the driver seated more centrally in a taller ‘greenhouse’ (the barrier and car, in my mind combining to mean that we’re not talking about another of those tragedies this week).

For such an apparently safety minded series to almost green light reckless driving boggled the mind.

After the 2006 Daytona 500, when Jimmie Johnson’s car failed post-qualifying technical inspection Chad Knaus was suspended for over a month and placed on probation until the end of that December – a full 36 races.

How on earth can gaining a tiny aerodynamic advantage be considered 12 (or even more) times worse than potentially endangering the life of other drivers, and fans?

Of course, it’s not a surprise if you have followed NASCAR and their discipline record over recent years.

In an article I wrote earlier today, even I predicted nothing would happen, and why (you can read that article here).

It is also very interesting to note that a very similar sentiment showed up, during the press conference announcing Edwards’ non-penalty, on Robby Gordon’s Twitter account – “Just heard the news. I wonder what would of happened to me in that situation? Hmmm someone playing favourites?”

In that original article I said the NASCAR needed to park Edwards to draw the metaphorical line in the sand about what drivers could, or couldn’t, get away with and show that no-one was above punishment. Actual punishing punishment.

Instead NASCAR have not drawn a line in the sand, meaning drivers are still fumbling in the dark about what is deemed acceptable.

Friday, 5 March 2010

SRO Do Right By GT2 In Postponement

Say what you like about the SRO Motorsports Group and the eponymous Stephane Ratel but their postponement of the GT2 European Championship shows they have GT racing, or at least something more that exposure and bottom line in mind.

The news was confirmed yesterday that the GT2 series, cleaved from its normal GT1 counterpart as the latter is elevated to World Championship status, will have its inaugural stand-alone season postponed. The SRO say nothing of when the series will be revived, but suggested it would be, the official press release suggesting the series would be “relaunched once the future orientation of the GT2 class has been agreed with a minimum of four manufacturers, possibly around the introduction of Hybrid technologies in GT racing.”

That is the root of the right and proper thinking behind the choice. The SRO want GT2 to be worthwhile, whether through the size of the field or by the new technology it introduces (in fact a chance for new technology would probably find itself attracting manufacturers).

It would be very easy for Ratel to cheerfully collect the entry money from a handful of GT2 teams and put them on an embarrassingly small grid that would do nothing but damage the profile of the teams and the series.

The press release adds ““The thundering development of the GT3 category, with 13 models from 12 brands homologated to date and the likely arrival of three additional ones in 2012, offering cars more affordable with performances equal to those of the GT2 category, has forced SRO to redefine its plans for the GT2 category.”

What they have recognised is that the different series are in serious danger of becoming cannibalistic.

With the introduction of the new GT1 World Championship the French Hexis squad-run Aston Martins and the Matech Ford GTs have moved up from GT3 to GT1. Though Hexis have confirmed they will also run a GT3 campaign once more in these days of limited sponsorship, not to mention time (especially given the GT1 calender takes teams all around the world) if this happens too often then at least one series is bound to shrivel and die.

And that’s before you include the pressures from the GT Open series and the GT2 classes of the Le Mans Series – the new home for 2009 GT2 champions AF Corse, while runners-up Prospeed Competition have an entry for Le Mans.

Ratel and company realise that nothing good can come out of trying to shoehorn another series into a market where there are only so many teams, manufacturers, fans and sponsors available.

And that’s a good thing.

While the SRO benefit from being the single entity behind GT1, 2 and 3 series, compare their approach to the web-like mess that is single-seater racing. In Europe we have GP2, Formula 2, and World Series by Renault all vying for the position on the last wrung of the ladder before F1, below that we have the mess of national Formula 3 series, along with the Euroseries, as well as the new GP3 series.

Oh, and the various stages of Formula Renault. And Formula BMW, and Auto GP and Superleague Formula.

The list goes on.