Why doesn’t the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship have clear red flag rules?
For Australia’s top-tier motorsport series, what happened on Saturday afternoon at the Tasmania SuperSprint should be nothing short of embarrassing.
And the kicker is, it is the third time in recent history a race has been marred by the series not having clear rules for what happens should a race be suspended.
This weekend’s farce came about when a large crash on lap two of the race saw at least a dozen cars come to grief in wet conditions on the narrow and fast Symmons Plains circuit. The accident blocked the circuit, saw one driver end up in hospital, and for a few cars ended their weekend.
In short, it was pretty bad.
The race was, rightly, red flagged while the wreckage was cleared from the circuit, and it’s here that things got real stupid real quick.
With the regulations for the weekend stating the race would finish after either 50 laps or at 1739 AEST, plus one lap, it became obvious to most that the second condition was going to elapse before the race could be restarted.
However, the cars did emerge behind the safety car. They completed two or three laps behind the safety car before the chequered flag was shown to the leader, Shane van Gisbergen.
With only one racing lap completed before the red flag was shown, there were suddenly questions about whether the race would be a race at all, and what would happen to Scott McLaughlin who accidentally entered pit lane instead of forming up on the start line like everyone else.
For any other motor racing series on the planet, the run of events from here is obvious.
As the race completed only a small fraction of the scheduled distance, it would be abandoned. No driver would receive championship points for the race, it would be like it didn’t happen at all and everyone would return to the circuit tomorrow for the second scheduled race.
That’s not what happened.
At time of writing, a number of people involved in the series are sitting in the Supercars series transporter having a meeting about how this shambles will be sorted out.
No one seems to know what should happen in these situations.
And it’s not the first time Supercars have found themselves in trouble when it comes to red flags.
At the 2014 Bathurst 1000, the race was red flagged after a section of the newly re-laid track started to break-up at Griffin’s Bend (turn 2).
There were arguments on the start line as race organisers allowed some teams to make repairs to their battered cars while the race was suspended. Others did not see it that way.
Then in 2016 at sudden downpour at the start of the third race at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide saw the event descent into a compete farce as no one seemed to know what the procedure was for aborting the race start so teams to change from slick to wet tyres.
It got even sillier as the race was shortened, meaning teams could not fill their cars with the required 140 litres of fuel they were obliged to while covering the race distance. Several drivers were penalised for breaching a rule that, at that point, they could not follow.
Red flags, suspended and abandoned races happen pretty regularly in the world of motorsport. Yet only the Supercars seem to be ones that struggle with them. Sure they have red flag rules (see section D10), but they’re not comprehensive in the least. Seemingly assuming that a race would not be red flagged for more than 5 or 10 minutes before getting underway again and everything being A-OK. Red flags are not usually pulled out for those, just quietly.
For Australia’s premier racing series, that these situations arise on a regular basis and they refuse to learn from them is nothing short of shameful.
This stuff isn’t hard. Every other series out there seems to be able to deal with compromised, severely shortened, even abandoned races. Why can’t the Supercars?