I like how the IZOD IndyCar series is constantly working to make the races both safer for drivers and more exciting for the fans. One of the key areas is blocking, the defensive moves a driver can make to block a car trying to overtake him. I'm for very liberal blocking rules, as I think the drivers should be permitted to do whatever they can (safely) to protect their position and win the race.
I think we saw a horrible example of dangerous blocking at the recent Long Beach IndyCar race, when Graham Rahal blocked (and chopped) Marco Andretti, causing him to crash and nearly flip over. Watching the race video, I could clearly see Rahal change his course, going way out of the line everyone else was following, to move to the right to block (and hit) Andretti. Rahal has been penalized for the move, which I agree with.
At the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, I had the chance to talk with a bunch of IndyCar drivers and IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard about the blocking rule, how they were dealing with it and whether they thought it was effective. Here's what the drivers said:
James HinchcliffeWell I think the thing is now, the blocking rules very much allow drivers to be more in line with their natural feeling. Before it was very difficult, when we weren't allowed to make any moves. A guy would come up behind you and you would want to defend and you'd have to actually try very hard to force yourself to not to do anything about it.
Now with the way the rule is interpreted, it gives us the that freedom, that ability to block, or to defend at least, one move, pre-emptive, and I think that's a big deal. I think it makes the races better, I think it puts the races back a little bit in the driver's hands. I look forward to racing more with it.
Katherine Legge For me it's very much more European, it's what you're used to doing. The no-blocking rule was very unnatural, not being able to defend your line. Normally you're allowed one move. So you're allowed to defend, but then you're allowed to come back. That's what it's always been in Europe and that's the way that Beaux Barfield (IndyCar's Race Director) has gone with it. So it's made it more true to the old style of racing. I don't prefer it one way or the other. For me, it's natural as you get into a habit of doing it one way or the other. It's very unnatural to stay and just let someone drive past you, but it's just a different way of doing it, one way isn't better than the other. It's just horses for courses.
J.R. HildebrandWell I think it's an interesting question. At various different levels, we've all had to just get used to a variety of different blocking rules. In the series, which was the same for Firestone Indy Lights, which a lot of us spent at least a year or two in prior to getting to IndyCar, there was no defending, no blocking, no nothing. You got sort of used to just racing that way. That if someone was trying to get around you, you would do everything in your power to just be far enough ahead of somebody that couldn't possibly pull out on you. Because once they did, you were just a sitting duck.
To me there was a piece of that, that I thought was always sort of artificial. Well, I could just move over and block him. The only reason I'm not doing that is because I'm going to get penalized for it. I think we found an interesting sort of maybe, call it a happy medium. Somewhere in between with the rules we've currently got. You're allowed to choose a defensive line, as long as it's not in reaction to the car behind you.I'd be lying to you if I said in the first race that wasn't difficult to even remember you could do that. There's a bunch of times that I was like wow, dammit, I realized way too late I could have even blocked somebody. So there's a little bit of finessing in terms of being able to figure out how deep you can go with guys. To anybody who was a critic, there's been more on-track passing without a push-to-pass this year, than there was last year, for the first bunch of races, and there's been fewer accidents.
Simona de SilvestroI think the new blocking rule is awesome. I think that's how racing is supposed to be and I think that it has made the racing so much better. In the first two races there were people fighting in the first group and even farther back there were people fighting for position.
It made better opportunities to pass, before you were kind of stuck with one pass because everywhere else nobody was actually making mistakes or things like that. But now if you block somewhere, it kind of puts you a little bit in a bad position coming out of the corners, so the guy behind you is going to get a different opportunity to pass you. I think it made the races much better.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard We've seen a lot of passing in the first two races. I think Beaux Barfield (IndyCar's Race Director) has gotten high marks from the drivers and the team owners so far, from what I've heard from both. I've got to let him do his job and stay out of his job. There's a lot of new things with this new car, including the carbon fiber brakes and they're able to push into those corners harder. I think there's a lot of things that give them opportunities. As long as there's great passing out there and exciting racing, Beaux is doing a great job.
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A lifetime auto racing fan, Freddy Sherman collects vintage muscle cars and attends races and rally events in the U.S. and around the world. You can follow him on Twitter - @thefredsherman.