The new slow zones – for enhanced safety and fairness
In most race series, the procedure after an accident in which a car got stuck at an unsafe place, is identical: the safety car is deployed, pulls out in front of the race leader and leads the field along the track at reduced speed in order to enable the marshals to recover the car without being in danger. This enhances safety, but it is unfortunate, especially for those drivers who have built up an advantage. In the DTM, this dilemma is now being solved by means of the so-called ‘slow zones’.
To this end, the track has been divided into several sections, each of them starting in or right after slow corners. When a car gets off the track, the other drivers are informed by yellow flags, warning displays, light signals and a countdown on the display in their cars when approaching the relevant section. When they cross the yellow slow zone line, overtaking is forbidden in this section and a top speed of 80 km/h is in force. To make driving easier, there is a button on the steering wheel to ensure that the speed limit is adhered to, just like with a regular cruise control. Once the recovery of the stranded car has finished, drivers are informed by green flags and light signals that they can accelerate to race speed again.
The introduction of this procedure not only follows a rule change by the FIA concerning track safety, but also includes a range of advantages: first and foremost, the focus is on safety for the track marshals. A positive element for the drivers is the fact that races are hardly affected by the slow zones. Daniel Juncadella, for instance, has a very positive view of the procedure: “I think that it is good for the excitement when a safety car can be avoided.” Mike Rockenfeller agrees: “It certainly is an improvement for the racing. We tested the system during roll-out on Friday and from my point of view, it worked well already.” Dieter Gass, Audi’s head of DTM, knows the manufacturer’s opinion in this matter: “Basically, we all agree that we want this. Especially the fact that the zones start after slow corners is the right approach, according to me, because like this, the risk of a collision from behind is minimised as nobody has to brake hard to slow down. However, it is a complex system and we first have to look at all the data to be able to determine how reliable the operation is.”
DTM race director Sven Stoppe explains: “On one hand, it is fairer from a sporting point of view, because, unlike a safety car intervention, the margins between the drivers are maintained. For the spectators, the slow zones also have the advantage that racing in all other sections of the track continues unaffectedly, even when a slow zone is active.” Accordingly, everybody benefits from the slow zones: marshals, drivers and not in the least the DTM fans, who get to see a normal race with drivers going flat-out outside the relevant slow zone.
To ensure that all drivers obey the speed limit and safety is ensured in any case, race control is watching the drivers closely: “The existing marshalling system enables us to monitor the data of the car. We can see the exact speed of the cars in real-time and can react straight away,” Stoppe explains. In case of an infringement, the driver at fault at least will be given a drive-through penalty.
In spite of all the advantages, the safety car remains an option: a slow zone can be used when a car has come to a halt next to the track, but when a car or debris are on the track, there is no way to avoid the classic procedure to allow for the track to be cleaned in a safe way.
All in all, the most popular international touring car series becomes a little bit safer with this addition to the regulations, and fairer for everyone involved at the same time.