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COUNTERPOINT: RHR's Penalty

by
Paul Dalbey & Steph Wallcraft
| Apr 12, 2011

 

In Counterpoint, Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft of More Front Wing face off on topics related to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither reviews the other's argument until after the article is compiled for posting. It's up to you to decide who's made the better case!

This week: did Ryan Hunter-Reay deserve the avoidable contact penalty he was given for attempting a pass on Ryan Briscoe at Barber?

PAUL'S POINT:
Though my twitter stream is filled with my #PetPeevesOfTheDay, few things in life really yank my chain more than knee-jerk reactions. As soon as our best-laid plans show the slightest hint of trouble, we tend to swing for the fences to make only minute corrections. I always relate it back to the example I used
in a post several weeks ago on MoreFrontWing.com describing my dear and blessed wife trying to control the temperature in our car. When she is the slightest bit chilly, she turns the heater on full blast instead of making small adjustments and creeping towards a solution. When she is just a bit warm, the air condition is cranked down to a sub-arctic set point rather than inching towards where she wants the temperature to end up. Thankfully, it seems that INDYCAR is avoiding the all-American knee-jerk reaction and taking the more subtle tweak-as-necessary approach when it comes to driver behavior and double-file restarts.

Standing firm in the belief that double-file restarts were the way to increase the entertainment value of the races, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard held his ground and decreed that double-file restarts were here to stay -- at least for now. Instead of scrapping the new restart system all together, Bernard and INDYCAR race control turned the blame game 180 degrees and put the focus back on the drivers. Though the Series was open and accommodating to tweaking the restart procedures, the point was made clear during last weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama that the onus was on the drivers to successfully figure out how to survive the restarts, not INDYCAR.

Prior to Sunday’s main event, a private, drivers-only meeting was held to discuss some of the conduct that was exhibited on-track at St. Pete. Though no media was present in the meeting, indications are that it became somewhat heated betweens rivals and that at least a few drivers were called out for their aggressive driving. Such would not be surprising as several drivers who made aggressive moves at St. Pete were labels as “idiots” and other non-complimentary terms by their fellow competitors. The buzz word between events was respect -- respect for each other, respect for the cars, respect for the speeds, and respect for the show.

As the event at Barber drew nearer, drivers grew to accept that at the end of the day, the success of the double-file restarts, and by extension their own races, lies not with the sanctioning body and the rules but between the seat and the steering wheel.

With that scenario as the backdrop coming into this past weekend, I expected the drivers to be slightly more cautious and a bit more respectful of their competitors. For the most part, I think they behaved better (even though it seemed someone from the outside line got pushed off-track in turn one on every restart). The one truly stupid move of the race, though, drew the ire of INDYCAR Race Control. In my mind, the avoidable contact penalty on Ryan Hunter-Reay was completely justified and absolutely the right call.

If this single event had been looked at in a vacuum and completely independent of other events that took place over the preceding two weeks, I would probably feel a bit different about the penalty. Even though I would still feel that it was justified, I would have probably quickly forgiven race officials if the move had gone unpenalized as well. It was close enough in my mind that the call could have easily gone either way. However, it didn’t happen in a vacuum and must be looked at with respect to what has happened recently and what the IZOD IndyCar Series is trying to move toward.

In this situation, Ryan Hunter-Reay was penalized simply because he didn’t use his head. I could easily point out a dozen other occasions in the race where drivers didn’t use their heads, but what set this incident apart can be summed up in a single word: respect. Sure, Helio drove Meira off course on a restart. Sure, Graham made an overly aggressive move on JR Hildebrand in turn 5 that knocked the Panther Racing car out of the race. Those examples, though, were truly racing accidents and moves that wouldn’t have required gospel-level miracles to complete. Hunter-Reay’s move, on the other hand, never had the smallest chance of working.

In an accident that looked eerily similar to the Rafa Matos/Danica Patrick incident at St. Pete in 2009, Ryan Hunter-Reay attempted a pass on Ryan Briscoe in one of the narrowest corners on the track, a place where it is difficult for a driver to navigate through on his own, let alone two-wide. Hunter-Reay was clearly the faster car but used terrible judgment in an attempt to force the issue and complete a pass that was never going to work. If he had waited another half lap, he could have easily gotten past Briscoe and continued on his merry way.

Double-file restarts can and will work in the IICS. To be successful, though, drivers are going to have to understand that it is their responsibility to act as professional drivers, not only on restarts but throughout the race. Should they continue to drive like Saturday night wankers, race control will need to continue enforcement of rules that place unwavering responsibility on the drivers and penalizes those who unsuccessfully attempt overly aggressive and hopeless on-track maneuvers.

STEPH'S POINT:
Let's be clear. The following are points that are not being debated here: Ryan Hunter-Reay tried a very bold move on a part of the course that's not an established passing zone; he stuck his nose in where he probably shouldn't have; and it sucks that he ruined somebody else's day while he got to continue on unscathed.

But hey, that's racing. You win some and you lose some. RHR thought he had room to take a shot, and he was wrong. It happens.

What's more wrong, though, is issuing a penalty for the move.

Drivers stick their noses in where they don't belong all the time. That's what they're supposed to do. The more brave and less apologetic a move is, the more entertaining it is for the viewers. Why would anyone want to discourage that?

Plus, there has been zero consistency in the issuance of penalties by Race Control over the last several years, and this is a hallmark example. Inconsistency can be found in this very race. Viso wasn't penalized in any way for ending Hinch's day with his boneheaded reaction to being spun. Helio wasn't penalized for staying well inside the racing line and squeezing down on Sato to make him careen off course and lose multiple positions. Why was RHR the only one to take the fall?

Now, it's possible that the drivers have been told this year in drivers' meetings that there will be more cracking down on avoidable contact and that the definition of such has been provided to them. That doesn't make those penalties right, but it does make them more justified. If that's the case, though, the general public hasn't heard about it and the drivers haven't mentioned it. Based on some of the comments from drivers this past weekend, they're as frustrated with the inconsistency of calls as the sport's observers are.

Besides, if every instance of avoidable contact by this definition was penalized consistently, the cars would spend more time doing stop-and-gos and falling back during yellows than they would spend doing any actual racing.

But to penalize an attempted pass made under race conditions simply because it failed is to penalize good, hard racing. If taking a gutsy dive into a corner means that a driver runs the risk of taking a penalty, that driver will think twice about making the move and many potentially great moments of racing will be lost.

In that case, we might as well just tell all 26 racers to strap in for a leisurely Sunday drive. And that's hardly what this sport is about, is it?

Paul Dalbey (@Fieldof33) and Steph Wallcraft (@99forever) are co-editors of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond.  Reach them both at feedback@morefrontwing.com.

8 Comments

  1. 1 pxllurme 25 Oct
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  2. 2 Kindsey 24 Oct
    Free knowledge like this doesn't just help, it promote demrocacy. Thank you.
  3. 3 IndyFanVI 24 Apr
    One of the many jobs a driver has is to learn every inch of the race course. RHR, one of my favorite drivers, should have known he was coming in to a turn where he did not have the room to complete a pass. He took out another car and deserved a penalty for it. The fact that he took out a Penske car is irrelevant. Just because a driver drives for a winning team is not justification for taking him/her out. You don't hit Brisco and get by with if then do the same thing to Matos and get a penalty because Matos doesn't drive for one of the big 3 IICR teams.
  4. 4 Grandpa Rocket 16 Apr
    Terry B. Standing Starts - YES!. If someone has never watched F1, once is all it takes.
  5. 5 David W. 15 Apr
    I don't understand the reasoning in the decision on Helio at Edmonton.  That's a wide corner with lots of room for passing, and yet the driver is being told he has to stay on a certain line.  It's not as if someone was coming through at speed and Helio blocked him.  If I understand it (and I don't), the rule is that you have to give the inside (best) line to anyone behind you who might want to try it, even though your driving put you ahead of him and should give you the right to the inside line.
  6. 6 Terry B. 13 Apr

    There seems to be more to the incident than meets the eyes and ears of those watching on Versus. Surprising nobody has mentioned any of it in any comments outside of IICS itself. The first would be the radio communications between Briscoe's spotter/team letting him know that RHR was there and going faster. Briscoe admits he received the message and moved out to give RHR room to get by, probably more room than was needed. The second was the fact that RHR said it himself that he realized after getting the message from his team that Briscoe was letting him go by that once he got in there that there was not enough room. the result was his trying to back off and was already in an overstear resulting in his rights side wheels bumping over the curbing. I'd say that his mistake was not doing what he should have: When committed to a pass, Continue it through. In the other incidents mentioned that is exactly what took place, the drivers continued through the committed pass regardless the consequencies.

    As for RHR being penalized and nobody else was, well that's the sole discretion of the IICS based on ALL the evidence, and they had a lot of it. Even RHR admits openly that he made a BIG mistake in not continuing to his committment to the pass. If he and his team, Andretti Autosport, really feel they were unjustly penalized, well, that's what the Appeal Process is for. Nobody is perfect, especially drivers, but neither are the IICS officials. This is no different than the ranting and raving about the Helio penalization in Edmonton last season, and in that incident it was made clear by IICS that they used any and all evidence to justify the penalty for blocking. The one thing that professional drivers do is learn from their mistakes, and I am certain that All the drivers in the 2011 IICS season will do just that before the end of the season. personally, I don't think that the IICS should implement another series' format like Nascar's double file restarts. If they want to implement formats of other series then they should implement Formula One's standing start rule for Grand Prix/Road Course of which is the way Grand Prix racing was originally formatted, not the running starts IndyCar has used all these years.

  7. 7 dave g 13 Apr
    ryan should not have been penalized.thats racing get over it briscoe,it,s not the greatest place to pass but it is a passing zone.it,s nice to see someone with courage to do it and not sit back and let penske and gannasi teams run away as usual with all the wins it,s boring racing, we need more teams to step up and beat the giants.
  8. 8 open wheeler 13 Apr
    Right or wrong, and it is based on belief, I do think the drivers need to realize, especially this early in the season, that there are consequences for their actions and that it isn't a complete free for all.

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