The NTT IndyCar Series is set to begin supplementing physical waved flags at marshaling posts around the track with digital light panels similar to ones seen in other series.
The LED sign boards will be able to convey a range of messages, including local yellow flags, full course yellows, blue flags to indicate that a faster car is approaching, and any other flags a typical marshal post has at its disposal.
By displaying quick and clear messaging to the drivers, the panels represent just one piece an upgraded communication system from EM Motorsport Safety Solutions that will be deployed at all tracks next season.
The system has the ability to instantly report to race control when a light panel’s notification is activated by a local marshal, meaning the race director will immediately be able to see when a local yellow is deployed instead of waiting on a radio call.
The light panels can also be overridden by race control, meaning safety car and red flag messages can be deployed to the whole track with no delays in notification.
IndyCar’s race director Kyle Novak spoke with RACER about the new system, and gave some insight as to how helpful the new system will be for him and his team.
“These light panels are designed to supplement the cloth flags, and sometimes replace them, depending on the circumstance at the marshal post,” said Novak. “So those panels will be operated by the local volunteer marshals, and they’ll display the exact same IndyCar flagging codes as before.
“So waving yellow, full-course yellow, surface conditions, blue flag, etc. They’ll be operated by the marshals via consoles at each corner. We think that this will enhance visibility and it’ll enhance our tools in race control.
“I think it’s no secret that since we’ve had the upgraded aero kits since 2018, one of the things we’ve been trying to do is emphasize green-flag racing and have more emphasis on local yellow conditions that might lead us to be able to do a local recovery, try to keep the race green.
“And that starts first and foremost with having a system in place with marshaling that allows the drivers to see exactly what they’re up against. We feel like with the speed of the cars, the technology that’s available, and the drivers getting the information they need, that comes with making these flags more visible. You can see these panels from outer space.
“I can’t tell you how many times when there’s been situations where a flag came out late, the driver said they didn’t see it, or it was halfway out, or it was still furled up as it was falling, and that 50 to 100 feet makes a difference.”
Human marshals and physical flags will still be present at most corners, and will act to supplement driver notifications and relay to race control the details of complex situations that can often present themselves in the event of an accident.
Other control possibilities also exist with the added level of precision the upgraded system brings, but advanced features such as virtual safety cars are not yet in the plan for IndyCar.
Look for the new digital signs around the streets of St. Petersburg during the February 27-29 season-opening weekend.