Making Stewarding Decisions Easier

Video VBOX footage – the quickest way to make a decision

“Rubbing is racing, son!” This is Harry Hogge’s advice to Cole Trickle in the NASCAR biopic “Days of Thunder.” A fictional (and largely forgettable) early Tom Cruise film, but rubbing is very real in American Oval racing. In fact, you could go as far as saying that if you aren’t participating in this practice, you’re not trying hard enough.

But what about in the rest of the world?

Driving standards are discussed in every drivers briefing at every meeting – safety is paramount. However, the standards in all formulae are adhered to in varying degrees, with a similar level of inconsistency in penalties.

In F1, it’s never out of the news; in GT’s it’s hardly ever mentioned. However, in FIA World Touring Cars they’ve made a step to pre-empt any dubious driving by installing Video VBOX Pros (with two cameras) in every car to assist with the stewarding of the meeting. The graphical overlay in the video footage assists stewards calm a situation and decide fault, if any. It mustn’t be forgotten that racing incidents are inevitable and, for some, that is the reason they watch motor racing.

FIA World Touring Cars uses Video VBOX for race stewarding

Closer to home – what about the BTCC? So long a trailblazer for innovative application of new saloon car methods, approaches and technologies. The “show” is very important to the BTCC; entertainment of the gathered crowds and the audience on ITV4 is good for business. Wherever the action is being watched, the audience, the teams, drivers and all involved want the action to be close. But are the driving standards crossing the line? Is the “show” too important?

Take the third race from Donington Park. It’s being transmitted live to thousands. Fast forward to lap three, Andrew Jordan is trying to make up places and tries for another position just before Goddards. Why wouldn’t he, he is a professional racing driver! However, Matt Neal – in another Honda Civic – is in the way. Cue massive accident, and the reigning champion ends up in the gravel, and Jordan himself does a pirouette and hasn’t benefitted. Could the accident have been avoided? You could argue mitigating circumstances, traffic had indeed converged, and it appeared Andrew Jordan was approaching at unabated speed yet no punitive action came his way. It was a racing accident.

If you saw the last lap of the same race, Jason Plato arguably uses Gordon Shedden as a brake into the final chicane. Poor old Gordon is knocked off, but drives through the gravel to take third. Shedden was apoplectic; Plato complained that Shedden braked earlier than he should have, but was still relegated. Data from both cars would have helped the stewards to make a much more informed decision.

These are examples of just two incidents of a packed race. Jason Plato was penalised, but should he have been? Appropriate penalties can be based on black and white data, and remove the subjectivity.

Some call the accidents acceptable and part of the “show”; others won’t tolerate such poor standards because they could be perceived as setting a bad example.

Healthy racing series relies on close competition. Racing drivers of all ages and abilities thrive on it. However, is there a consistent approach to the application of safe driving standards from F1 down to club racing? Motor racing should be non-contact. We are reminded when going to racing circuits that it is dangerous. As stated earlier, racing incidents are inevitable, but vital for keeping for the public’s interest. But where it can be used, video and data logging could and should be applied. The FIA’s approach in Touring Cars is laudable, pioneered by Australian GT organisers who made Video VBOX mandatory for all competitors in 2010:

If it helps stewarding, the reasons if and why decisions have been taken can be explained and penalties justified. In fact, Alan Gow, the chief executive of the BTCC has said driving standards are being reviewed. But does this this statement go far enough?

There are two elements here: stewarding, and stewarding & informing the public. Approaches such as the latter have been used in other sports – cricket springs to mind. Technologies such as video and data logging delivered by Racelogic are efficient, cost effective and proven. With FIA Touring Cars leading the way, this could become an effective tool for any racing series. Big Brother it maybe, but if it’s helping to move the sport forward, and keeps it safe, then that must be better for the show.

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