Brian Barnhart, Tony Cotman, and Al Unser Jr., who handle Race Control for INDYCAR, came under fire for not issues nay penalties after the multiple crashes we saw at Toronto. They were especially criticized when it was initially reported a penalty on Dario Franchitti had been given and then rescinded (it was later confirmed that no penalty was ever issued and a miscommunication between them and broadcaster Versus was blamed for the initial report).
More confusion set in when we learned the reasoning for the lack of penalties. In cases where a drive-through could have been given, the offending driver had received damaged and needed to pit, placing him or her at the back of the pack. That appeared to be penalty enough in the eyes of Race Control that day, hence why nothing further was handed down.
This week in Edmonton was a different story. Reports that series officials demanded better and cleaner racing were backed up by the actions of Race Control from the moment the green flag waved. Initial contact between Alex Tagliani and Graham Rahal, which sparked the first lap crash between Rahal and Paul Tracy, was the first test of the day. Unlike the opening crash in Toronto between Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe (when Briscoe was not penalized), they handed out a penalty to the offending driver, Tagliani in this case.
The precedent was set that none of that type of contact would be tolerated this week. There’s a fine line between “racing incident” and “punting someone” and they drew that distinction. Similar penalties were handed down to Mike Conway, who spun Oriol Servia on lap 25, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who spun Takuma Sato on lap 34. It should be noted, though, that E.J. Viso was not penalized for his contact with Scott Dixon on lap 29. Viso spun himself out while Dixon suffered a broken radiator, but didn’t spin in the incident.
In all, Barnhart, Cotman, and Unser Jr. were pretty consistent with their calls on Sunday and maintained control of the race. The first penalty to Tagliani reinforced the request for cleaner racing and was the proper call to make. Even though Tagliani was already at the back of the pack after replacing his front wing, a drive-through was still warranted for causing the crash. The same goes for Conway and Hunter-Reay, who didn’t suffer any damage in their altercations.
Hunter-Reay even immediately accepted the blame for his contact with Sato. “With Sato, I broke early and went for it. It was totally my fault, and I apologized to Sato,” he said post-race. “I apologize to the team too; we had a podium car for sure.”
No one wants to see the officials dominate a race or the drivers. But, letting the inmates run the asylum isn’t a good option either. After the crash filled Honda Indy Toronto, they needed to intervene and illustrate just what is and isn’t acceptable on the racetrack. They did exactly that at the Edmonton Indy and the landscape seems to be clearer because of it. The boundaries have been set, now it’s a matter of consistently enforcing them.