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?
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.