Damien White: The Official Word from Clipsal 500

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 05/03/2014
  • By V8 Supercars

The data is in. Shane Van Gisbergen – 68km/h, Rick Kelly – 72km/h, Jamie Whincup – 59km/h.

Like the restart rules or not, they clearly state the maximum permitted speed for the leader prior to the first Acceleration Zone (AZ) sign is 60, and therefore all cars behind have their speed controlled by the leader. The drivers knew that if the lead car increased speed beyond 60, the onus would then be on the car second in the line to maintain the speed up to 60. SVG nervously crept above, RK the same, while JW maintained the speed as prescribed.

I concede that my use of the word “assume” in a TV interview when explaining how we knew the #97 and #15 were speeding was a poor choice, given I knew I didn’t have the luxury of time to go into more detail during a live broadcast. There is always a lot going on for the V8 Supercars officials in pit lane and I was rushed, and my response left a lot of you wondering how a penalty could possibly be issued on an assumption.

Ironically, my statement didn’t deviate from the fact that there was absolutely some assuming that went into the decision. The bit I would have added, had the air time been available, is a repeat of what took place at the drivers’ briefing earlier in the week when the “how will you know” question was asked.

The response from the driving standards observer Jason Bargwanna was: “The requirement is on the lead car to maintain a speed between 50 and 60km/h. If a gap is created to the next car in line it may be that we can assume the lead car has gone beyond 60 and a pit lane penalty will be issued.”

In this case if the gap increasing was caused by Whincup slowing then the car behind him, and the one behind that, and so on would been tripping over each other with lots of nose to tail pushing and shoving; there was none of that. Let’s assume then, shall we, that SVG increased speed and RK decided to join him.

V8 Supercars’ decision to introduce the AZ acceleration zones at restarts was recommended to and approved by the V8 Supercar Commission. This Commission consists of an independent (non-voting) Chairman, one independent member, three team representatives and a single V8 Supercar member. The recommendation was in part modelled on the 60/60 format of last year and fan feedback on the restarts of the second race; and the edge of your seat action they delivered.

Ultimately we are in the business of delivering high octane entertainment – great racing and close competition. Seeing a grandstand full of patrons on their feet for the restarts speaks volumes for this particular theory. That said, we also have a responsibility to acknowledge the safety aspect and at the same time ensuring the competition rewards the best performers. We remain confident the safety car restart rules provide the opportunity to deliver on all the criteria; however it does require a tune up so that we don’t see major impacts like we saw in Adelaide.

There were plenty of opinions from high profile team members and drivers. Even Formula 1 star Jenson Button got in on the action tweeting about our “action packed” racing.

I think the lead car at a restart in @v8supercars should be able to control the speed from the entry to the last corner...

— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) March 4, 2014

 

You don't need to anymore action to a category that is packed full of it.

— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) March 4, 2014

 

My favorite “local” tweet was from Ross Stone of Erebus Motorsport:

What a joke. Three wide into T1 is never going to work. Sick of these bright ideas like new restart rules.

— Ross Stone (@RossStone22) March 2, 2014

Despite Ross appearing highly critical of our work, I actually agree with him; in part. Three wide into T1 is never going to work... but the rules don’t stipulate that you must go three wide!

Jenson Button also tweeted that the restart rules need a rethink:

Think the racing in @v8supercars is some of the best but the restart rules need a little bit of work! unnecessary danger & unfair penalties.

— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) March 4, 2014


While I would never discount the views of people with the experience and skill like Ross and Jenson, maybe at least some of the criticism could be directed at the people making the decision to expose their cars in a poorly calculated risk versus reward equation. The rules do not solely make the decisions for the drivers; the drivers have to take advantage of the rules, but they also have responsibilities.

Let’s not forget too that in any given SC period all but the lead car have gained advantage before the restart even takes place. You can be 30, 40 or however many seconds behind, and an SC period gives you an absolute free hit in terms of track position and gaining that lost time.

Any of the drivers will tell you I am always open to discussion on how we can improve the rules. What I struggle to give weight to is emotion loaded comments mid-way through a race. Time buys recovery from emotion, and while there’s a 100 per cent certainty that we can and will fine tune and improve the current process without completely removing the concept, it has to be done away from the drama of a race weekend.

The other highly controversial decision on the weekend was the pit lane penalty for Jamie Whincup. For those who missed it, the car controller for #1 was determined to have undertaken work on the car during the pit stop; something that, for reasons of safety, is absolutely not permitted.

So, did he undertake work on it? What’s defined as “undertake”? What’s defined as “work”?

When the Stewards are confronted with this scenario they review the available footage to determine whether or not a breach has occurred. They also have an understanding of why a rule is introduced, what its intent is, and how a reasonable person would interpret the rule.

While it’s normal for the V8 Supercars teams to break down every rule word by word and dissect it to within an inch of its life, the fact remains this rule was created with a clear intention of ensuring safety for the crew by way of having a single person responsible for controlling the car including, without distraction, keeping an eye on all that is happening with the car in the pit stop.

While one legal mind may define the word “undertake” as “to be responsible for” and “take upon oneself” and marry it up with a view that there’s no way the car controller took it upon himself or was responsible for “any work”, another may tell you that placing a hand on the car with some force while seemingly providing advice on how to effect a repair is working on it.

Regardless, the intent of the rule is for the car controller to maintain a sole focus and remain in control of the car; something they can’t do while busy fussing around with a finger, a hand, a whole arm or whatever it may be on a targeted part of the car. Being distracted puts the remaining crew at risk. Who’s watching if an air jack fails and a crew member is jammed under the car?

Do I think they breached the rule? Yes, I do. Do I think Jamie gained an advantage out of it? No, I do not. Do I think he deserved to be penalised for this team error? Yes, I do. Why, if no advantage? Every penalty we issue sets a precedent, and while the work on the car by the controller this time was incredibly minor and likely did nothing of real value in the repair, we expose ourselves if we give a lesser penalty. To the extent that next time a car controller works on a car, but the work is significant, that team would expect the same, lesser, penalty.

A breach is a breach. You can’t half break a rule, so you can’t give half a penalty. Besides all that, we cannot afford to compromise safety and the message was sent loud and clear. 

At the end of the day, the Stewards gave it some jandal and… well, you know the rest!

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