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Conrod, Straight: Issue 7

7/4/2006 15:14 (Michael Shaw) - For this, the seventh issue of Conrod, Straight, I thought that instead of doing the usual season preview (that you can get pretty much anywhere), I would go through some of the new rules for the 2006 V8 Supercar season.

There have been numerous changes to the rule book for this year. Many are minor details, including the change of name for AVESCO to V8 Supercars Australia. Others are more significant, from practice sessions to team groupings.

I believe the practice sessions could have a rather significant effect on the racing weekend. It may seem a little odd to say this but it will make more sense in a moment. There will now be a single two and a half hour practice session at most rounds, the exceptions being Adelaide, Indy and the non-championship event at the Grand Prix. This session will be split into two – 60 minutes and 75 minutes, with a 15 minute refuelling break between them. There are no extensions for red flags.

During this session, each car will be lap-limited to what will equate to approximately 50 minutes over the entire two and a half hours. But here’s the catch – for every lap that a car runs over of their allotment, they will be penalised two grid spots for the first race. It’s an interesting choice of penalty but it should guarantee that everyone will pay a lot of attention to how much running they do.

There’s a rather odd new rule that comes into force during pit stops. Team members are not allowed to assist in the forward motion of the car at the completion of the pit stop. In other words, you won’t get people helping the car along after the pit stop. The larger implication of this rule is that teams won’t be able to bump-start a car if it stalls, either during or after a pit stop. I do think that there is a small loophole, though. If a team pushes the car to start, then pulls it back into the pit bay (remembering reverse gear is not allowed in pit lane), the car can then start as it wasn’t pushed at the end of the stop.

The most controversial new regulation would have to the reverse grid races. At every race that has three races over the weekend, the second race will have the grid determined by the reverse finishing order from the first race. As is normal for this type of thing, to be on pole the driver must be the last classified finisher from the race. To be classified, the driver must cross the finish line, have completed at least 75% of the race distance and their final lap cannot be more than twice the winner’s fastest lap time.

To complicate matters, reverse grid races receive different points to the others and yet it is championship points over races one and two that determine the grid for the third and final race. For those equal on points, the preference is given to the driver with the higher finishing position in race 2. This will lead to some strange grids. Two drivers that take a win and a second each will be ordered by their order in race 1 as their points are not equal. On the other hand, drivers that are two places apart, e.g. first and third, are ordered with the driver who finished higher in race 2.

The total points for the race weekend have also changed. There are now 320 points on offer for the winner of Bathurst and Sandown. This is then split in half for Adelaide, the only 2 race event, and not into thirds for the 3 race events. For those races, there are 128 points for the winners of races 1 and 3 but only 64 points on offer for whoever survives the reverse grid race in front. You may want to pack a calculator when going to the track.

There’s going to be some strange driving after Safety Car periods. At the end of a Safety Car period, anyone not on the lead lap must move off the racing line and allow anyone on the lead lap through. There are penalties for anyone not complying but the rule does not appear to include any penalties for a lapped car overtaking another lapped car. In Adelaide, for example, there’s not a lot of space to play with nor too much straight between the start line and the first chicane. If there’s a car at the back of the field on the lead lap, it’s virtually impossible for a car at the head of the queue to allow this car through. While I see no problem with the idea of the rule, it should be applied in the same way as has been done in the US. It is implemented by moving the cars on the lead lap to the front of the field during the Safety Car period, when safe, leaving the lapped cars at the back before the restart.

This rule could lead to championships being won and lost, or at the very least races. This is more likely at the short tracks of Pukekohe and Symmons Plains where drivers are going to be lapped when doing pit stops. The scenario is that a driver can pit, go a lap down and then a Safety Car can come out. This then puts this driver to the back of the field at the restart. There are assumptions, in that no one else pits during the Safety Car period but the fact that this scenario is possible shows that this particular rule needs some work.

A potentially controversial new rule is in regards to debris. When a car brings debris of any sort onto the track during practice, they will receive a warning, followed by the loss of their fastest session time. If it is done during the race, they will receive a “pit lane penalty.” The same also applies to corner cutting. This may cause some problems depending on its interpretation. For instance, if someone spins off the track and dirt or gravel is sprayed onto the track they should get a penalty but that may not be entirely fair depending on circumstances. On the other hand, someone who dumps gravel on the track after having been through a trap would be more deserving of this penalty.

Test days are still limited to 6 days per team but there are now a couple of exceptions. A rookie driver may get up to 3 days of testing in addition to those for the team. This is limited to the rookie driver only and even that is rather specific. Rookies who have been competed in a number of international series, including F1, ChampCar and Japanese GT, will only receive 2 days of extra testing – so only 2 extra days for James Courtney at Stone Brothers Racing. There is also a well chosen provision to allow one extra day to test potential drivers for the endurance races. There is only one day total, not per driver, and is limited to nominated drivers only.

Finally, I shall part on groupings. There has been a lot of discussion as to who should and shouldn’t be grouped together for testing. The rules are now more specific than in previous years.

To be grouped, there must be an entity that either has an interest in another team (e.g. Jason Bright), teams are controlled or predominantly run by a single entity (e.g. Tom Walkinshaw Racing Group in regards to HRT and Toll) and teams that use common facilities for build and maintain their cars (e.g. Paul Morris Motorsport and Team Kiwi Racing). There are a few more specifics in regards to personnel and services supplied to multiple teams, the last to include a Holden Motorsport style set up, I assume. Engine supply and normal commercial components are excluded from these restrictions, otherwise all teams would be grouped together as they use Hollinger gearboxes.

This still allows HMS and Larry Perkins to supply cars to other teams but they’re not allowed to maintain them as well, unless they wish to be grouped. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and about as far as regulations can go without becoming ridiculous and overly complex.

The Clipsal 500, once more the opening points race of the season, will usher in a relatively small number of changes this year. Most of them won’t affect the racing, nor will they be obvious to the average fan, but they will make a difference to the teams, especially if they fall foul of the new regulations.

Release Date: 25/3/2006