Ever since Danica Patrick and her little 100-pound body drove into our collective consciousness in 2005, rival racing teams had been calling for a system that in effect penalizes cars with lighter drivers.
Earlier this season, such a rule was finally created. There’s one problem…nobody knows how it works.
After resisting repeated calls to institute a rule used in some form in every other major U.S. racing series, the Indy Racing League this year adopted a system that takes a driver’s weight into account. Teams whose drivers are on the lighter side are compelled to add ballast to their cars to compensate.
Hence, “The Danica Rule.” Brian Barnhart, the IRL’s president and director of competition and operations, doesn’t necessarily think [her small stature gives her an advantage], but he reluctantly approved the rule change anyway.
The issue is that none of the teams know how the weight to be added to the car is being computed:
Barnhart is intentionally vague about how the rule is administered because he doesn’t want drivers to know where they fall on the sliding scale used to mete out the weight assignments. All he would divulge is they are weighed once a year and divided into four groups, with the heaviest subtracting weight from their cars, the next group doing nothing, the third adding a small amount and the fourth adding more.
That falls well short of the rule used in the former Champ Car World Series, which took the weight of the heaviest driver and brought all the others up to match. NASCAR weighs its cars and drivers together and compensates accordingly. Barnhart views both of those as excessive.
“All we did was reduce the percentage between the lightest and the heaviest to a point we’re comfortable with,” he said. “We’ve done it in a fair way and I don’t think we need to go any further.”
The ambiguity of the rule rankles some, including Team Penske president Tim Cindric. He said his drivers, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, are just two pounds apart yet Briscoe must carry an extra 10 pounds in his car.
“They should just put it out there so people know where they are and it’s not some ‘Wizard of Oz’ behind-the-curtain thing,” he said.
Extra weight won’t have much of an effect at Indy this Sunday, since the high, constant speeds on oval tracks won’t be altered much by extra weight.
But still, why all the freaking huffiness? The one question most people have about this race is, “Will Danica win?” That’s been getting so many people bent out of shape for so long. And why? She just won her first race barely a month ago. She’s the most popular face in your sport, and you’re going to make it harder for her to win? If this were NASCAR, they would have given her a two-lap head start and a free pit stop. If Pam Ward had to overcome these kinds of obstacles, we’d have never heard of her.
…Any chance we can get Barnhart a job at ESPN?