Saturday , October 25 2014
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The Return of IndyCar’s Magic Button

The Return of IndyCar’s Magic Button

INDYCAR has announced that the push to pass feature will return to the IZOD IndyCar Series for the five remaining road / street course events on the 2012 schedule, beginning this weekend in Toronto. The big question I want to ask about this announcement is why?

No, not just why, more like why on earth did anyone think it was a good idea to monkey with what has been a really good season with happy fans so far by bringing back a completely unnecessary and totally contrived bit of fakery like push to pass?

Here is the technical explanation, just to bring everyone up to speed on what push to pass is. The base turbocharger boost level in the engines this week will be 150 kPa. When the driver hits the push to pass button, the boost will increase to 160 kPa for a pre-determined amount of time. (Confused yet? Read on. A translation into English follows!)

This is the finish of the IndyCar race at Iowa-without push to pass. Does the series really need to bring that gimmick back?

This overtake assist feature lets a driver add turbocharger boost and RPM by pressing a button on the steering wheel to help them complete a pass. INDYCAR will determine how long the boost will last for each track as well as determining the total amount of time available for the race, the recharge time, and any delay at activation. It will only engage when a certain throttle position is reached and will disengage if the driver lifts or presses the steering wheel button again.

Translating this to English for those of us not scientifically inclined, self included, a kPa is a kilopascal, a pressure measurement unit, and no, I didn’t know that either. I Googled it. The simplified version: the driver can push his magic button and it makes the car go faster, sort of like when Michael pushed the “Turbo” button on K.I.T.T. on Knight Rider (the real one complete with David Hasselhoff and the Trans-Am, not the remake). Every week, the driver will get a total amount of turbo boost time and it will last for a certain amount of time each time he pushes it. So if he gets 100 seconds total and it lasts for 10 seconds a pop, he can push his magic button and go faster than the other cars 10 times during the race.

The idea is it adds excitement to the race because it makes it easier for drivers to pass so they’ll pass each other more, thus addressing the lack of passing that is so often the complaint on road / street courses. As a bonus, it adds drama too because when two drivers get to racing, we can bite our nails wondering who has more pushes left on his magic button. The television networks like that in particular because it gives them one more dramatic scenario to set up, since two drivers actually racing isn’t exciting enough.

It also gives the broadcasters hope when a driver is yarding the field up front. Maybe someone with more magic button pushes can turbo boost his way up there and race with him. Of course if one driver uses eight button pushes to catch up to the leader, who still has all ten of his, it’s kind of a moot point isn’t it?

If it’s not already obvious, I dislike push to pass and wish it had never returned. It’s contrived, unnecessary, and at times completely useless, adding an element to on track battles that is just silly. It’s about as good of an idea, and sort of the same thing really, as throwing regular competition cautions in NASCAR to bunch up the field in order to address boring races with little passing.

It’s probably not necessary to explain why it’s contrived but essentially it’s a magic button on the driver’s steering wheel that will make the car go faster a certain number of times during the race. They have that in Mario Kart too, don’t they? It’s straight out of a video game. Can you seriously imagine if they tried a stunt like that in NASCAR? Come to think of it, maybe it’s worse than the phantom debris yellow.

The fact that it’s unnecessary has been well proven this year. Has anyone missed it? Has there been one comment anywhere to the effect of “boy, I sure miss the push to pass feature. Do we know when it’s coming back?” INDYCAR essentially answered a question no one asked. In the meantime, what has been commented on is the good racing we’ve seen this year. Barber Motorsports Park stands out as a shining example. Drivers passed all day by having a car that was handling well and by setting up and executing passes. Not a one had need of a boost of speed to get by a competitor because it wasn’t an option. Imagine that … they raced!

The worst part of it is when the big drama at the end of a race comes down to who has more push to pass left. Drivers should be out braking, outrunning, and out thinking each other to win the race. The driver in front should be putting his all into not making a mistake and staying in front of the second place guy. The second place guy should be pressuring the driver in front to force a mistake as well as looking for weak spots where he can capitalize and pounce on his competitor by setting up a perfect pass. It should never come down to one driver beats another simply because he had one more push to pass left in his car than the other driver. That’s just cheap.

The IZOD IndyCar Series has had a great first half of their season. If you build it, they will come they always say, and ratings have been up this season over last year. The new cars, new engines, good races, and different faces at the front of the field have brought that. Push to pass was introduced in 2009 and didn’t bring increased ratings over that span. Build your series on real competition between drivers and teams like we’ve seen so far in 2012, not gimmicks. There is no guarantee the gimmicks are going to bring in new eyes or put new butts in the seats, and personally, I’d rather attract true fans with a great and genuine product.

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