IndyCar Will Soon Use Digital Flags (Lights) Finally!

Great news!

IndyCar series will soon start utilizing a light-flagging system, much like many of the elite global series including FIA Formula 1, FIA Formula E, FIA WEC, Blancpain Endurance Series, etc.

They’re pretty late to the party. The first time I used the FIA TSB digital light panel system was during the 2012 F1 season… a full five years ago! Since then, I’ve used it around the world from the 24 hours of Le Mans in France to 24 hours of Spa in Belgium. To a small club event in New Zealand!

The light system is an important supplement to the traditional flagging system using physical flags, and is one of my favorite roles to work as at a track because there’s so much responsibility on your shoulders when operating one of these digital panels.

Why?

Because digital panels streamline the process.

In a traditional scenario, if something happens, the person on flags displays the correct flag. The observer/communicator sees that flag displayed and radio’s it to Race Control. When they receive the news Race Control spread the message back to the marshaling group, both communicators and rescue services. As well as to teams, TV, even drivers… for those that have displays of real-time info on their fancy steering wheels. With a push of a button, all of those steps become one. The light comes on as a flag, it is better visible to the drivers on track. It is also immediately visible to Race Control, to the Teams, to the TV, to other marshals in the neighboring stations automatically adjusting their flags too, for example waving yellow automatically creates a standing yellow in a preceding station and a green at a following station. The computer does this automatically, no additional input is necessary from the marshals at adjoining stations unless their individual situations change.

Well, today IndyCar announced that they are testing a system of lights and gave us a little waterproof box controller to play with and give feedback…   and to my surprise and amazement, the prototype is shit! I mean these systems have been around and in actual use for at least five years, I know because I’ve used them personally. And the designers of this box still made the same mistakes that plague the older/primitive systems.

It’s a shame the people that design and develop these are not the ones that will actually use these devices themselves. And I’m afraid any feedback we provide will be shelved without serious consideration.

But here it is…

This waterproof box bullshit is stupid. Why? Because chances are you will be using this device when it’s raining out. Umbrellas aren’t always allowed, we don’t always get proper shade from the rain, so how the fuck do you keep this fragile thing dry when it’s open???

You can’t… it will probably get flooded and malfunction.

The design must be such that it is waterproof when opened, in the condition it would typically be used. So having a seal-able watertight box for storage is nothing what reality calls for.

Why give users buttons they are not allowed to use?

There’s no fucking reason any flag point on track would require a “RED” flag button. That decision comes from race control and they are the only ones who should have control of it. Placing a button onto individual station controllers is pretty dumb and only accomplishes creating confusion. And assuming it does work, placing it so close to one of the most used buttons in the box: “BLUE” flag is calling for trouble… Imagine hitting “RED” flag accidentally when a faster car approaches slower car for a pass…   I’ve done that. Not with red flag but with a “SURFACE” flag, and never seen cars hit the brakes harder instead of pushing gas to pass.

That is my other suggestion. Put neutral flags next to BLUE flag, one of the most used flags in the box. You should only have WHITE or GREEN flag buttons next to Blue. But never anything serious or important like RED, SURFACE, YELLOW or WAVING YELLOW.

That said, the box design is the easiest part of this whole system development. I’m very excited about what they told us the actual lights will look like to display to drivers. That will be awesome and potentially leapfrog other series already using digital light panels.

I’m especially looking forward to using this myself.

Ironically, several people at this morning’s presentation jumped to conclusions that this box will replace existing flaggers. I call bullshit on that! Traditional flaggers have a place at today’s race tracks, unfortunately they are taken for granted by every series out there, and most of the people in Motorsport from drivers to fans. Nobody respects marshals and that’s a shame. But there will always be need for them, even if just to push the appropriate buttons to display the correct warning flags.