Debate continues over double-file restarts in IndyCar Series

It's all anyone in Indy car racing can talk about, and arguably just what the sport needs to help boost its popularity.

"Double-file restarts" were implemented this season in the Izod IndyCar Series, a change that has sparked some hair-raising moments in the season's first two races and probably will again Sunday in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

"Every restart now the fans are [saying], 'Oooh, what's going to happen here?' " said reigning IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti. "It's definitely created more opportunity for passing, more drama."

In the past, Indy cars restarted single file after a caution period. Now they're side-by-side, forcing drivers to be a lot more judicious if they don't want to crash into one another as they get up to speed.

That's especially true on twisty street and road courses, such as the 11-turn Long Beach circuit on the city's seaside streets.

Indeed, restarts in Long Beach begin with the cars sweeping down a long stretch of Shoreline Drive at more than 180 mph, then braking hard and squeezing through a sharp, narrow left-hand turn. Even when they ran single file in past years, drivers frequently collided trying to get through that turn.

Now it's going be even friskier, and IndyCar's drivers are divided about the change, which was proposed by some IndyCar team owners to build fan interest after NASCAR stock-car racing adapted double-file restarts last year.

"I don't like it," said Sebastien Bourdais, a three-time winner at Long Beach. "Everybody's so bunched up that everybody ends up on top of each other. It's not racing; it's carnage."

But IndyCar chief Randy Bernard fully endorsed double-file restarts, and has said professional race car drivers should know how to avoid making contact with one another.

Will Power, winner of the Long Beach race in 2008, agreed. The key is "everyone giving each other respect," said Power, an Australian who also won last week's race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, a road course where drivers crashed on three restarts.

"We can drive around without hitting each other and make it close racing," Power said.

But Bourdais said that's easier said than done. "Once everybody puts their helmet on and closes their visor, everybody stops thinking rationally," he said.

Bourdais' return

Sunday's race marks Bourdais' return to Long Beach, where the Frenchman once dominated with three consecutive wins from 2005 to 2007.

Bourdais, 32, returned to IndyCar racing this season with the team of Dale Coyne Racing. But they're struggling to keep pace with the sport's better-funded teams.

A prerace warmup crash kept Bourdais from starting the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., and he finished 11th after starting 20th last weekend at Barber.

Asked whether his race cars were capable of consistently staying up front, Bourdais replied, "Not yet. We need to do more [on the cars] before we can pretend to do anything."

Bourdais' Long Beach wins came when the race was part of the old Champ Car World Series, which reunited with IndyCar in 2008 to again form a single open-wheel series. By then Bourdais had left for what would be an unsuccessful foray into Formula One, which ended in mid-2009.

Friday practice

Ryan Briscoe and Power, his Team Penske teammate, were first and second, respectively, in the second of two practices Friday. Briscoe turned the fastest lap at 100.152 mph around the 1.97-mile course, the only driver to top 100 mph.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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