A Bonus for Fans and Penalties for the Grid; More Changes for 2020

Two changes for the 2020 NTT Indycar Series season came to light today. One is for the fans and one is a return to a rule from 2012-2013.  In Roger Penske’s drive to improve the fan experience, there will be a public drivers’ meeting at every race this coming year. The meetings will follow the pattern of the Legends’ Day ceremonial meeting the day before the Indianapolis 500.

The Indianapolis 500 drivers’ meeting is mainly to introduce the drivers, hand out awards, and for the race director to give instructions about the start and other race procedures. Any issues will be discussed in a closed drivers’ meeting earlier in the weekend. I’m not sure how the logistics will work at some tracks like Long Beach or St. Pete. With open access a large open area will be needed.

I’m glad that Penske Entertainment is actively seeking and implementing ideas for fan interaction. It will allow some fans who usually don’t have the chance to see drivers up close to get a view. My concern is when you take an element that has been unique to the Indianapolis 500 and make it universal, it cheapens that aspect of the event.

I’d rather see newer, more original ideas for fan interaction. You can’t do everything every race just like it’s done for Indianapolis. I do applaud  the Penske team for jumping right in and looking for more ways to involve the fans. I just want the Indianapolis 500 to remain unique in more ways than the race itself.

Grid Penalties Return

Unapproved engine changes will once again result in a grid penalty and may under certain conditions also result in a loss of driver and entrant points. A loss of 10 grid spots for changes not approved by Indycar was in force for a few years early in the last decade. The penalty was switched to a loss of engine manufacturer points through 2019. The penalties are different this time.

On road and street courses, a driver must start six places further back than where he/she qualified. On ovals other than Indianapolis the grid penalty is nine positions. I addition, an unapproved engine change initiated by the entrant also results in a 10 point penalty for both the driver and the entrant.

A full season entrant is allowed four fresh engines. each engine must run 2,500 miles before it can legally be changed. There is an allowance for an engine damaged in a crash. If an unapproved change is done at a test, the grid penalty applies to the next race.

Trackside Online’s Steve Wittich published a fine article outlining the approved and unapproved changes. If you aren’t a subscriber, today would be a great time to sign up.

I think the grid penalties are fair and will hopefully prevent the mad engine swapping out that occurred among the contenders at the end of last season. With the manufacturers’ title already decided in favor of Honda, neither OEM had anything to lose by giving the drivers going for the championship a fresh engine. The grid penalties are more reasonable than the punishments doled out in Formula 1, where a driver might spend the rest of his career satisfying a grid spot penalty.

I do not like the double jeopardy of losing grid spots and 10 points. I can understand losing grid positions, especially if a car has a brand new engine. I can even understand entrant points. I don’t understand penalizing the driver as well. Engine issues are rarely the driver’s fault. Ten points could be quite a hit in the middle of a championship battle.

I think overall these are two good changes for Indycar. I do have some concerns about the unintended consequences, but I do appreciate Penske’s innovative thinking.

Look for a post on Thursday and my season preview beginning Friday.