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Old 05-25-2014, 6:34 AM
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Default Indy 500: If radio fails, driver may get black-flagged

Just heard this on WISH TV 8...For as long as I can remember, crew members were allowed to go out to the wall between the track and pit lane in order to signal to their drivers. Large handheld signs were used to communicate to the driver their position, lap time, and/or laps remaining. These signs were also used to tell the driver to come into the pits.

Of course, radios have expanded the rudimentary one-way sign board communications. Crews and drivers can talk back and forth by radio and much has been done over the years to improve the reliability of these comms. In addition to voice communications, the cars transmit telemetry so the crews can keep track of various aspects of car performance. And, the cars that are carrying video cameras transmit video so fans can enjoy an in-car TV experience.

Even though the use of radios has become pretty much universal, crew members still went out to the pit wall to signal their drivers. This was especially useful if the radios failed.

A new twist for this year is that, in the interest of safety, crews are no longer allowed to go out to the pit wall during the race. This has made the pit-to-car communications totally dependent on radios. If a driver's radio fails, the crews are to send a text message to Race Control who will then indicate to the flag stand that the driver is be black-flagged. In other words, a radio failure could mean a driver has to pit in order to get the problem fixed.

Contrast this to NASCAR where many of the tracks are built so that there is no wall between the track and the pits...just a wide expanse of grass. NASCAR teams are totally dependent on radios for pit-to-car communications. I don't know if NASCAR has a black flag on radio failure rule like has been implemented for the Indy 500.

Also contrast this to Formula 1, a form of motor sport where it seems that money is no object. Even though Formula 1 teams make extensive use of radios, they still use low-tech signboards to signal to their drivers. Formula 1 tracks address the safety issue by building sturdy fences between the track and the pits to protect the crews at the pit wall. These fences have cut-outs so a crew member can hang out a signboard where the driver can see it as he whizzes by.
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Old 05-25-2014, 6:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by W9BU View Post
Just heard this on WISH TV 8...For as long as I can remember, crew members were allowed to go out to the wall between the track and pit lane in order to signal to their drivers. Large handheld signs were used to communicate to the driver their position, lap time, and/or laps remaining. These signs were also used to tell the driver to come into the pits....

A new twist for this year is that, in the interest of safety, crews are no longer allowed to go out to the pit wall during the race. This has made the pit-to-car communications totally dependent on radios. If a driver's radio fails, the crews are to send a text message to Race Control who will then indicate to the flag stand that the driver is be black-flagged. In other words, a radio failure could mean a driver has to pit in order to get the problem fixed...
If the crews want to communicate using signboards at the wall, and the officials don't want to risk having crews at the wall, can someone find a way to use mounted electronic signboards? That way the message gets through without risking the people, and without causing the driver to pit just for a radio problem.

Just a thought,
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Old 05-25-2014, 9:45 AM
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Black-flagging for comms failure has been available (if not in use) in many race series for many years. The only thing I see new in this procedure is the forbidding of crews to cross pit lane, which is something I don't have a problem with IMO. The speeds and aero characteristics of cars in modern times mean they can easily mount (or in extreme cases go through) walls and fences. Hell, even 10 year old videos can be found of NASCAR racers mounting guardrails and sailing on beyond (luckily not in the pits themselves).

Electronic signboards have been employed over the past couple years in several series.. they're really just in the early stages of them IMO. Naturally F1 is at the pointy edge of this - they have large panels all up and down the track that basically mimic flag stations, showing a large (I'm completely guessing here when I say they're about 30"x24") block of color representing a flagged condition,, and if a safety car is deployed, the yellow alternates with the letters "SC" in white on a black background. I've seen them depict green, yellow, red, and blue (car overtaking) but I don't know about some of the multi-colored flags (i.e. red/yellow for debris). I suppose they could be engineered to deliver messages to drivers as well, but showing a "black flag" could be tricky (as the panel itself is black when nothing's being shown).

Anothing thing that is being played with recently is two-way telemetry. The United Sports Car series (the merging of the American Le Mans and Rolex Championship series) has had, for years, lights on the sides of the cars that indicate the first, second, and third place cars in each class (one light = first, two = second, three = third). This year they changed that to a two-digit LED panel, so now presumably they can show the car's position throughout its class. Obviously this has to be transmitted to the car from the scoring center. At the same time, they have started to work with a system that lets drivers know when a caution flag has been thrown. I don't remember everything about it, but in the early stages I recall seeing a simple yellow bulb inside the car which flashed when a full-course caution was in effect. This makes it very hard for a driver to say he/she didn't see the boards & flags.

During today's Monaco GP, I heard the commentators mention that the F1 cars' steering wheel displays also indicate a specific speed target to be met when they are in a safety-car situation, so the drivers have an obvious indicator that the action is to be slowed.

Like I said, this (two-way non-voice communication) is largely in its infancy IMO, in racing, and series are trying to find ways to make it work without giving teams the opportunity to carry on entire conversations over 'text messaging' so to speak or making it overly complicated to use.
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Old 06-05-2014, 11:09 PM
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Back in the late 80s or early 90s Jim Ellis with Newspager got permission from USAC and the track to send T+S data to alpha numeric pagers. This was very high tech at the time. A couple of teams were interested in trying to get that data to the car but there was no way to mount a pager in the car and no way to get that info to the PI display.
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Old 06-06-2014, 9:41 AM
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In watching NASCAR for many many years, I am not aware of a rule on "radio failure". In fact, it is discussed on TV often that so-and-so has a radio problem. Since NASCAR controls the race via the flagman (just like everyone else) the radios are a nice add on, but if they are lost, well, that's why you are a race car driver, not a trained monkey. I see it as no different as my cell phone dying....we lived without them once...we can again. I can actually make it home in my car without a cell phone by my side, albeit most people would find that incredible today.

I think maybe the difference is that possibly NASCAR does not see it as a mandatory safety tool, but it is nice to have, and it is an competition enhancer more than anything. If your radio fails, you better have a plan. Man up. I do however, see and hear about "backup" radios in the cars from time to time, so even though failures may happen, it is rare. And, since it is just a Motorola portable, easy to strap another one in there just in case.

The last big thing where NASCAR weighed in on radio usage was a couple of years ago when the cars were doing the "tandem" drafting at big tracks due to the aero-rules imposed on them in the COT cars. They were loading up multi-channel radios, and even using 2 radios at once, to communicate with other teammate, and non-teammate cars directly. I bet that was fun. NASCAR said "nope".

They also recently said that teams cannot use digital formats (Trbo) for communications on race day between crew/car. Otherwise, and I have heard this confirmed, they at times use digital modes during practice and qualifying, and possibly between owner and crew chief on race day. NASCAR as a sports has long since been fine with fans participating by listening in on race day.
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Old 06-06-2014, 2:53 PM
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Another reason not to try and cobble up some homemade wiring harness for the radio.
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Old 06-06-2014, 4:52 PM
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I suppose installing another radio in the car would add extra weight so that may not work. Could the driver be fitted with a portable?. It's not the best but it would be better than nothing I suppose.
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Old 06-06-2014, 6:08 PM
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If you have to add ballast to make minimum weight adding in the form of something useful instead of lead dead weight is a consideration. If you are over minimum weight without ballast redundant equipment may not be the best choice.

On a short track where signals are strong putting a portable on the driver may work. On a track where distances can be longer, the track is heavily wooded, or there are high spots between the pits and parts of the track a negative gain antenna shielded withing the car body/crash structure may not allow reliable communications over the full track. Even a full 5 watts VHF with external 1/4 wave antenna on the car on a 2.9 mile roval there are dead spots where I cannot talk to the crew chief with a portable in the pits.
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