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Counterpoint: Should Helio have been sent to the back?

by
Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft
| Sep 06, 2011

In Counterpoint, Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft of MoreFrontWing.com 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: Should Helio have been sent to the back of the field for the start of the Baltimore Grand Prix?

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PAUL'S POINT:

You’re driving down the street minding your own business, and you're doing so responsibly with no obvious infractions. You see the intersection ahead where you need to turn, so you slow down and prepare for your maneuver. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a car plows into you at full, unabated speed. Police arrive on the scene shortly thereafter and give the offending driver a ticket with a whole host of citations, the least of which is a $500 fine and three-month suspended license. The kicker is that you also get the same ticket, $500 fine, and three-month suspended license because, although you were minding your own business and did absolutely nothing wrong, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time and someone else hit you.

That’s a kind of raw deal, isn’t it?

I like fair. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the kind of law and order that satisfies me. I understand that rules are rules and must (should) be obeyed. When rules are broken, the punishment should fit the crime. Equally important, though, is that no punishment should be handed out when no crime was committed. The ruling from Sunday that caused Helio Castroneves to start from the back of the field for the Baltimore Grand Prix is a travesty and is something that needs to be addressed.

There are plenty of cases where assigning blame for driver error in an accident is a gray area. Most times, when two or more cars are involved in an on-track incident, neither driver is solely responsible for the carnage. In this case, however, it was blatantly obvious that a mechanical failure on Tony Kanaan’s #82 KVRT-Lotus machine was the genesis of the incident and that Helio Castroneves was 100% blameless for what occurred. At best, Helio’s Team Penske crew had to prepare the back-up car, which would not have had an engine it in or likely even been set up for a street course (given that this was the last street course for the season). At worst, the crew would have had to thrash to repair the damaged car and get it into race condition in less than five hours. Neither scenario is desirable, nor is the upper five-figure repair bill that Team Penske will probably be getting from Dallara. Making the #3 car start from the rear of the field just adds insult to that injury.

As has been discussed and beaten to death over the past several weeks, there is plenty of leeway for Race Control and the Senior Official (i.e., Brian Barnhart) to make the decisions that he feels are most appropriate during a race weekend, even if they may be somewhat contradictory to what the rule book spells out. This is one situation where he could have used the power granted to him to right a wrong in a situation that had very clear-cut cause and effect. This wasn’t a case of two cars going for the same piece of track or two drivers arguing over blocking, nor was this a case that required immediate judgment with cars traveling 200 mph in the interim. There was plenty of time to think this decision through, to make the right one, and to ensure that a driver wasn’t unfairly penalized for someone else’s problem.

In this case, Race Control blew it, and I sincerely hope they review this situation and find a way to prevent a similar one from playing out in the future.

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STEPH'S POINT:

So, Paul tells me he wants to argue that Helio Castroneves shouldn't have been sent to the back of the field for the start of this Sunday's Baltimore Grand Prix because the incident in the morning warm-up that forced him to his back-up car wasn't his fault.

Seriously?! Some people will just never be happy! INDYCAR fans have collectively spent the entire season clamoring for clearer rules and better adherence to them. But the first time a feel-good story pops into view, we're throwing that out the window?!

Look, don't get me wrong: I don't think we could find a single person who's not extremely grateful that Helio was where he was when Tony Kanaan's brakes failed. The hit to Helio's car scrubbed enough speed off of TK's careering machine to save TK from potentially serious injury.

But this is one situation where the rule book is perfectly clear:

8.1.(D)(7)(a)(i) Except during qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, INDYCAR will require the backup Car to start the Race at the rear of the field in accordance with Rule 8.1(H)(2).

(Rule 8.1(H), by the way, handles situations under which a qualified car has its qualifying time voided and its grid position revised. Subsection (2) deals with substituting a car or engine for the one that was used in qualifying.)

Isn't this exactly what we want: clear, concise rules that don't bring emotion or discretion into play? More than one person has pointed out that the much-maligned Rule 1.1(C)(2) -- the one that lets Brian Barnhart do whatever he wants -- could have been used to let Helio off the hook in this situation. It's just not right to scream for that rule to come out of the book one week and then try to take advantage of it the next. We can't have it both ways, folks!

Helio was in the (right) wrong place at the (right) wrong time, and his race weekend suffered for it. But you know what? That's racing. Sure, it sucks when Lady Luck works against you, but it just as often goes your way, too. Fair's fair.

As long as the rules are perfectly clear and are being followed consistently to the letter, not a single person should be complaining about this. I feel for Helio, but I commend Brian Barnhart and his team for taking the action specified in the rules with a strong hand and without regard to favoritism or compassion. That sort of action is exactly what INDYCAR needs to bolster its credibility, and it's unquestionably in the best interests of the sport to enact more of the same going forward.

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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.

16 Comments

  1. 1 Roberta 12 Sep
    I agree with Paul, and I agree with Tom, Helio's fan.  Barnhart has somekind of grudge against Helio,  Seems the rules only apply to Helio.  Helio fans and other indy fans are not stupid.  Helio has more fans than Indy car and quite alot to lose from your racing.  Power and Franchitte are a joke, if indy is fixed like all else what a shame.   Does anyone find it strange that Power is always fastest, race after race, Never have witnessed another driver doing that so consistently for the last 8 years.  Someone should check his car.  If Helio doesn't soon get treated right, kiss at least 40,000, fan goodbye, a big loss of money for Indy.  Maybe Barnhart doesn't like Helio cause he can dance and drive, has Barnhart ever done either?
  2. 2 dave g. 08 Sep
    Bring back Michigan...............
  3. 3 Tony Massey 07 Sep

    Paul is the only one who is making close to an accurate point regarding this issue. Again, Indycar fans are met with a botched interpretation and execution of the rules which took Helio, one of the series' most popular drivers out of contention for the race before it ever began. If you make a call to allow a team or teams to make a change prior to a race, it stands. Period. You lose credibility as a professional sports entity when you waffle around or make poor calls consistently, based on prejudices and politics. Barnhart and his minions have obviously had it in for Helio for some time now, with bogus blocking calls and the like. This crap is happening more and more, as Indycar strives to weed the field of contenders so as to make it a clearer shot for Power and Franchitti. Helio should have been allowed to start 7th when they told him it would be permitted to run the backup. This is a no-brainer. Indycar is wishing a world of crap on themselves on what seems to be a weekly basis. Where was the Barnhart appearance to appear and apologize/account for another wrong? Didn't happen, because they are prejudiced against Helio, and anyone that could threaten their ho-hum championship duo. 

    Don't think we aren't paying attention to all this, Indycar. Your fans aren't as stupid as you might hope. Better realize real quick what side of the bread the butter's on. New cars that are BARELY even "open wheel," and new motors won't be enough to haul you out of the abyss of political hell and sporting irrelevance you seem destined to be heading down. You may keep this approach of "none of the fan's business...." but, rest assured, it will catch up with you. Lose Helio's fans, and you lose a SIGNIFICANT part of your audience. Treat him right.

    We're watching.......

    Go get 'em Helio. Your fans have got your back.

    Tony Massey

     

  4. 4 Steph 07 Sep

    Ashley, you caught me. I didn't learn until after this story was submitted that Brian had made and later reversed the call that the teams would be allowed to keep their grid positions. (That's what I get for having a nine-month-old to keep an eye on during race broadcasts!) I think the original discussion is still worth having, but adding that element to it does color things somewhat.

    Just as important as being consistent and impartial in the application of the rules, in my opinion, is being a firm leader when making and announcing decisions. Brian invoked 1.1(C)(2) to keep TK and Helio in their grid spots, and while that would have riled a lot of people up (myself included), the better thing for him to have done would have been to declare that his decision had been made and stuck to it. By capitulating under pressure and going back to applying the rule as written, Brian demonstrated weakness before the team owners (despite the fact that that's what he should have done in the first place). That's not exactly a desirable image for an official in a position of power, and it puts him in an even less stable position than he was already in.

    I also agree completely with those saying that this rule should go on the pile of those to be reviewed during the off-season, ideally without adding an element of discretionary decision-making to it if at all possible.

  5. 5 Sheryl 07 Sep

    Well I can sure see both sides of this one. Rules are rules and need to be followed, BUT in this case Helio did not,  and could not have contributed to this accident the way it happened. The rules are what they are right now but Possibly there should be some carefully worded rule changes for next year. As long as they are looking into them this should be addressed, it really is not fair to Helio.

    Question Who said Helio was not going to be sent to the back? If it was anyone in race control then they NEED to stand by what one of them said. If RB is going to stand by BB then they need to stand behind what each other say. To me its the same thing.

    It was TK's car and he needs, and does take responsibility for his car so his penalty should stand.

    They say controversy is good for promotion of a sport, but this kind is the wrong kind. If you are going to use discretion use it fairly and only to make things right.

  6. 6 Mattmnx 07 Sep

    For better or worse it is the job of race control and the race stewards to make a determination of the rules all weekend long. This is so much of a task that multiple individuals are employed during the race weekend to ensure the rules are interpreted in a fair and concise manor.  The idea that every rule can be written to cover any situation, without question is nothing more than fantasy. 

    I could not agree more than consistent application of the rules is imperative to fair racing. I also could not agree more that rules are something that should be evaluated and revised based on real world application. The incident with Helio is a great example of a rule that deserves a review in the off season, but not before.

  7. 7 Ken 07 Sep

    Sorry Paul, I have to agree with Steph on this one.  If we followed your guidance, we "could possibly" also argue that TK's brake failure wasn't really TK's fault and he should keep his original starting position.  There will alway's be something that seems unfair to someone else, no matter how well the rules are written.  The best way to handle this is equal, even and fair enforcement of the existing rules. 

    Unless the rule states "Except for those situations where Mechanical failure is the cause...", rules are rules and should be followed.  If the drivers, teams, officials and fans agree that a rule is bad, then it should be changed, but not during a race.  Most of the time, rule changes should be between seasons.  The only time it should be changed otherwise is for obvious safety concerns... but that's another topic!

  8. 8 Julie 07 Sep

    I agree with Steph. I feel bad for Helio and sentimentally I would agree that he should keep his starting position...but the rule in this case is clear.

    Any of the cars on the grid could have been an innocent victim of an accident during warm-up that required them to go to the back up car and they would have been put at the back. In that case no one would have complained because it was the rule...but because this is a feel good story everyone wants the rule to be ignored. I for one am at least happy Race Control actually enforced an actual rule without invoking Rule 1.1(C)(2).

    I am not sure why Penske did not just fix the primary car to begin with. If what Tim Cindric said is correct...that they could have fixed the primary car...then that is what they should have done and not had to worry about the rule.

  9. 9 Julie 07 Sep

    I agree with Steph. I feel bad for Helio and sentimentally I would agree that he should keep his starting position...but the rule in this case is clear.

    Any of the cars on the grid could have been an innocent victim of an accident during warm-up that required them to go to the back up car and they would have been put at the back. In that case no one would have complained because it was the rule...but because this is a feel good story everyone wants the rule to be ignored. I for one am at least happy Race Control actually enforced an actual rule without invoking Rule 1.1(C)(2).

    I am not sure why Penske did not just fix the primary car to begin with. If what Tim Cindric said is correct...that they could have fixed the primary car...then that is what they should have done and not had to worry about the rule.

  10. 10 Linda 07 Sep
    Normally I would agree that it was just bad luck for Helio; however, if a team is told they can go to their backup car without having to go to the last row, then that should have been the final word. I don't know who told Penske that they wouldn't be penalized, but shame on that person. Do we need all rulings to be put in writing and notorized? Come on. Quit ruining Indy racing for us die-hard fans.
  11. 11 Ashley 07 Sep

    My problem with the whole situation is that Penske was told they would be allowed to retain their spot if moving to the backup car. After preparing the backup - when it was too late to switch back - they were told they'd lose their starting position. Cindric has gone on record saying they could have fixed the car had they just been told honestly what the situation was.

     How is THAT fair and following rules? Did Barnhart consider switching, tell Penske, then change his mind when he was met with others not liking it?

     Steph, you said: "for clearer rules and better adherence to them". But is this really that instance, considering the above? That's the part of all of this that makes me most upset. If he wanted to stick to the rules, send them both to the back. Don't change his mind after telling the team something different.

  12. 12 Jim Gray 06 Sep
    I love reading both of your viewpoints on.... most everything, but I have to agree w/ Steph on this one.  As for the mythical occurances of corruption from this rule, well I would say the current configuration of the rule book is much more open to corruption and poor interpretation.
  13. 13 Russ 06 Sep

    I am all for Rules.. and yes this one is clear and concise..... however be careful what you wish for..!!  When you add words like always and to the letter you open this up to corruption.!!   I can see a roll back driver accidentally (or not) taking out car in a heart beat. Garages being stormed by masked men in the dark of night and cars hijacked (I know that is a little over the top) but just making a point. What would it do to the points race to have one of the front runners be taken out and have to go to the back in there back up car from outside source that they have no control over..!!!! 

  14. 14 Russ 06 Sep

    I am all for Rules.. and yes this one is clear and concise..... however be careful what you wish for..!!  When you add words like always and to the letter you open this up to corruption.!!   I can see a roll back driver accidentally (or not) taking out car in a heart beat. Garages being stormed by masked men in the dark of night and cars hijacked (I know that is a little over the top) but just making a point. What would it do to the points race to have one of the front runners be taken out and have to go to the back in there back up car from outside source that they have no control over..!!!! 

  15. 15 Joe 06 Sep

     Finally a rule that does not open itself to interpretation and is clear and concise!  Rules are rules and apply to everyone equally. Sorry Helio, Penske business as usual does not come into play here.

  16. 16 Mike Hare 06 Sep

    Boo Paul, for all Stef's reasons. Rules need to be clear, concise and followed....ALWAYS.

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