Indycar Series officials learned some valuable lessons about transparency during last weekend’s Honda Indy Edmonton.
Two delicate situations relating to activity in the Izod Indycar Series happened on the weekend. One received little attention, one receiving a lot. If you’ve ever been an official at a sporting event of any kind you’ll know it means the one of little attention was done well, and the one of great attention, means you’re probably getting abused from the sideline.
Situation (a), revolves around the Indycar Series decision to place Milka Duno on probation regarding her conduct as a driver.
Last time the officials had a situation like this, was when Marty Roth was driving in the series. Marty just disappeared during the offseason, in a way that makes me wonder whether he should consider his own David Copperfield style TV specials.
Nobody really knows what happened there, but we suspect that maybe he was told there would be no licence renewal forthcoming. Marty would probably suggest that there was no warning, and no options to resolve this issue.
Having learned from that experience, the officials came up with a different tack to approach the Duno situation. That approach, was transparency.
If Milka Duno’s licence application for 2010 is rejected, there is little doubt why, as officials made it clear in a media statement on Thursday: “Duno’s probation requires immediate and substantial improvement to her driving during the remaining events on the 2010 schedule.
“Substantial improvement is defined as consistently meeting the performance standards set by the league on a particular circuit. On road and street courses this is measured in terms of time (107 percent of lead car), and on ovals it is measured in terms of speed (10 mph of the lead car). In addition to time and speed, other requirements include car control/placement and interaction with other cars on track.”
By putting Duno on probation, with set criteria, the situation is clear. There can be no arguments; there can be no media posturing by the team. It is what it is.
Situation (b) where Helio Castroneves was penalised with a black flag for blocking on the final restart, is an interesting comparison.
A clear instruction was given in the drivers briefing to the drivers (in this video posted on Youtube). Do not defend your line, if you do so, and you’re in the inside half of the track while not attempting a pass, you will be black-flagged.
Now I know a lot of you don’t like that rule, but there’s no doubt the drivers were told that’s the rule. The video of the driver’s briefing proves this.
The drivers in the briefing had a clear opportunity to question or give feedback on the rule. That is the purpose of the briefing; to bring it to the attention of the drivers, and/or to take feedback. Otherwise you’d just print it in the rulebook.
Here unfortunately, is where the league failed. When the green flag dropped on Sunday, it appears that only the 30-odd people in that room, the drivers, the league officials, and camera operator knew what the rule was.
I certainly didn’t. The IMS radio network commentators, including Davey Hamilton didn’t know. The Versus commentators including Professor B, and one Indycar team owner appeared not to know either.
If that driver’s briefing instruction was printed in a supplementary bulletin, and distributed to the media, then the reality is, we wouldn’t be talking about this today. Because regardless of your opinions on the rule itself, it’s pretty clear, according to the instructions given in the driver’s briefing, the interpretation was 100 percent correct.
Unfortunately for the Indycar Series, what resulted was a post-race media scramble to try and explain to fans why the penalty was applied the way it was. Unfortunately, at this point, the horse had bolted. Helio Castroneves’ antics had already an hour ago won the hearts and minds of fans worldwide.
The unfortunate part for officials was they had all the evidence at their disposal to extinguish this fire before it took hold. They videotaped the briefing, had got the understanding of most series drivers that this was the interpretation of the rule. They just forgot to tell anybody else.
A situation where that video, or a note about the passing rules, was distributed to the media leads to a very different scenario. The video that Versus produced post-race showing Castroneves breaking the rules by driving inside the superimposed “half way line” appears on the screen before the post-race interviews, and Castroneves ends up looking the villain, rather than Barnhart.
The Indycar Series now faces a lot of negative feedback. But the negative feedback you’re reading in the media this week, about the call, about the rule, masks the true issue. In both instances it was not the rules, or how you interpret them that mattered. It was transparency of outcome that mattered.
Transparency has made the uncomfortable Duno situation a lot more palatable. But transparency was not a consideration when the driver’s briefing information about blocking was not made public, and that allowed Castroneves to capture the hearts and minds of Indycar Series fans when he had no right to.
Hopefully, the lesson has been learned.