Is it time for the Verizon IndyCar Series to re-evaluate the rules surrounding full-course caution flags on street and road courses?
If you ask Sebastian Bourdais, who took the victory in Sunday's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, he'd likely say “no way.”
That's because a rags-to-riches story unfolded for Bourdais after he started in 21st spot but vaulted into second after a perfectly-timed full-course yellow. He then took full advantage of his good fortune to capture his 36th career Indy car victory.
After starting at the back of the field due a crash in Saturday's qualifying, Bourdais, in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, admitted he needed the “biggest and best luck ever” on Sunday.
An opportune caution period caused when Mikhail Aleshin (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) and Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Honda) touched and tossed some bodywork onto the track did the trick.
“We pitted as planned on the (early) side of the window because you don't want to get caught out, obviously, by a yellow,” Bourdais said. “Everybody in front of you but one guy gets caught out (and has to pit under the caution). ... Next thing you know, you're P2 with what is a good car.”
Walk a few steps down the pit lane and you get a much different answer from James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda), who saw a potential victory slip through his fingers when that same yellow waved as he led the race on Lap 26 and just as his No. 5 crew was getting ready for his first pit stop of the 110-lap race.
Instead of staying in contention for the win, the caution meant Hinchcliffe was shuffled down the order when he pitted for tires and fuel under yellow. He never recovered and ended the day ninth.
“Honestly, a pretty disappointing result,” Hinchcliffe said.
“The yellow caught us off guard. A bunch of the guys behind us had already pitted, so that kind of put us behind the eight ball.”
Scott Dixon (No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda) was second when the caution hit and suffered the same fate as Hinchcliffe. Dixon recovered to finish third, but he questioned the need for the full-course yellow after the Aleshin-Kanaan contact.
“It was a bit strange. I don't know why they were yellow for such a small piece of debris that wasn't even on the racing line,” he said, adding the call was “mysterious."
“That pretty much put us in the toilet right there. I will go see what the story was there.”
Many fans were likely wondering the same thing.
The rules allow local yellows for just the affected areas on road and street courses and they are the default unless there's a more serious incident that necessitates a full-course caution for the safety of drivers and the responding Holmatro Safety Team alike. But it’s usually a split-second decision that must be made in INDYCAR Race Control.
Even if full-course cautions became rare on road and street courses, the Verizon IndyCar Series could consider changing the rule book to limit them playing a deciding role in races. One solution could be to mandate a maximum speed when a full-course yellow comes out. A pit-lane speed limiter type button the drivers must press during a caution period could do the trick.
With all cars keeping to a set speed, the gaps prior to the caution would be maintained and nobody would gain or lose an advantage. That would allow the pits to stay open so the drivers could head in for service before the pace car picks up the leader.
While it might not completely eliminate being caught out by a yellow, it would lessen the number of times a driver's day is ruined by happenstance.
“There's not a whole lot you can do about the way the yellow flags fall,” Hinchcliffe said. “That was a tough break. I think we would have had a solid top five if it wasn't for that.”