New Start Procedure for Cleveland

Champ Car World Series officials have taken drastic steps to try to reduce the likelihood of a first-lap, first-corner pile-up at Cleveland on Sunday

New Start Procedure for Cleveland

Races at the unique Burke Lakefront Airport course always present drivers (or, more particularly, their team owners who have to foot the repair bills) with a major headache - getting through the first turn in one piece.

Some sort of contact can be virtually guaranteed and more often than not there is complete mayhem, as was the case last year when Alex Tagliani triggered a melee that eliminated front-row qualifiers Paul Tracy and Justin Wilson.

The reason the start is such a magnet for trouble is that the 100-foot-wide main runway funnels into a tight and comparatively narrow hairpin; drivers fan out seven and eight abreast along the straight only to discover that the corner will only accommodate two or three of them at once.

In a bid to discourage banzai passing attempts, officials will implement a new starting procedure for this year's race. Drivers will be required to stay to the left of a yellow line that runs down the length of the runway, and drive-through penalties will be issued to any transgressors unless stewards deem that they were forced over the line.

Furthermore, a barrel will be placed near the entrance of Turn One to close off the inside half of the runway and prevent drivers steaming up the inside on an impossibly tight line (a la Tagliani in 2004).

The barrel and accompanying restrictions regarding the yellow centreline will be removed after the first lap, reopening one of the favourite overtaking spots on the 2.106-mile track.

Most drivers are ambivalent about the new measures, recognising the need for some action but questioning whether the use of something so rudimentary as a yellow line and a barrel is the best solution.

"I guess I hope nobody hits the barrel like a football and kicks it into somebody," said pole-sitter Paul Tracy. "We'll have to see what the plan is in the drivers' meeting.

"You know, [Champ Car vice-president of operations] Tony [Cotman] has been pretty pro-active on what he's been doing this year. He's going to tell us what he wants to see. We'll see if we can do it into the first corner..."

"I think something needed to be done to try to narrow the racetrack so it's not so tempting and you don't have the P1, P2, P3, P4, P5, P6 and P10 cars all shooting for the same apex and not making it," added two-time Cleveland winner Sebastien Bourdais.

"I don't know about the barrel. But for sure if somebody crosses the line, he should be penalised and he should know about it. Then he should not even try to make the corner - just try and reposition himself afterwards.

"If you try to sneak back into the pack, for sure it's going to be a big crash."

Saturday's Toyota Atlantic race didn't set an altogether encouraging precedent, as Britain's Katherine Legge triggered a multi-car shunt. A similar expedient (but involving cones rather than a barrel) was adopted for the Champ Car race back in 2000 and the ensuing carnage accounted for a substantial portion of the field.

Cotman and his colleagues will have to hope that the third time's the charm...

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