In COUNTERPOINT, MoreFrontWing.com co-editors Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft face off on topics relating to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither sees the other’s argument until the two sides are put together. It’s up to you to decide who’s made the better case!
This week: Should James Hinchcliffe and his team have been allowed to repair their car and return to racing at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix?
STEPH says NO:
By now, most of us know the circumstances. James Hinchcliffe was driving around the streets of Belle Isle minding his own business when suddenly a four-inch-deep chunk of tar lifted from the racetrack and lodged itself under his front wheels, rendering his car undriveable and sending him straight into the tires.
Some people seem to think that because the incident was completely unavoidable by Hinch and involved a factor outside the regular scope of racing incidents that his team should have been allowed to repair the car so that he could be send back out when racing resumed.
Maybe when the race is over we should all hold hands in Victory Circle and sing Kumbaya, too.
Look, if there’s one thing guaranteed about racing, it’s that luck will always play a massive role in the outcome. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, and there always seem to be new ways popping up for the unlucky to be snake-bitten, but it’s an eternal factor nonetheless. It’s one of many things that make open competition great -- luck provides a measure of unpredictability.
More importantly, attempting to control the outcome of these types of incidents opens a messy can of worms. What if someone had hit an especially tall curb and broken part of the front suspension? Does that driver get to return to the race, too? What about Takuma Sato, who had a completely separate incident at the same time as Hinch that was unrelated to the track disintegration? Who gets to decide who benefits from the red flag and who doesn’t?
Despite the precedent that may have been set last season, the clock should never be turned back on any incident, ever. Things happen, and pretending they didn’t is tantamount to playing God with an entire sport.
Hinch himself put it best: “It was like playing Russian Roulette, and I pulled the bullet." On another day, another driver will be the one who pulls the bullet and Hinch may be the guy who benefits. After all, these things do have a way of evening themselves out eventually – and that process should be allowed to happen naturally.
It may not be fun sometimes, but it certainly makes for the best stories.
PAUL says YES:
This one is admittedly a topic that I struggle with. I ultimately see, and can sympathize, with both sides of this story, but when push comes to shove, I believe James Hinchcliffe should have been allowed to make repairs to his damaged race car and continue in the race last Sunday in Detroit.
In all sports, there are certain breaks that go against a player from time to time that are considered “just part of the game.” There are also aspects of every game that are expected to be consistent throughout and a non-variable during the playing of said game. I firmly believe that the integrity of the track at an automobile racing, especially at the INDYCAR level, should be held to a reasonable level of consistency and not be the source of failure for one of the drivers. In reality, I believe the race should have been stopped and the track repaired before it became a problem, but that wasn’t done. I can’t imagine a basketball game continuing when a backboard is shattered until a player misses a crucial shot because the rim falls off.
I realize it’s a fine line to discern what is a justifiable expectation and what is just part of the game, but common sense and <gasp> discretion should play a role here. There are factors that should be considered just part of racing: tire failure, engine failure, changing track conditions (to an extent), a mistimed yellow flag, even being taken out by a competitor through no fault of the impacted driver – all of these factors are assumed and accepted as part of racing luck, and while teams may not be able to account for them or overcome them, they are generally regarded as part of the game. Things like crumbling track infrastructure or a goofy lottery to determine a driver’s starting position are simply matters of chance that should not be a factor in the outcome in a premiere racing series.
I’m also swayed to support Hinchcliffe in this position because there was time available to make repairs to his car, and as with other situations at the same time (e.g. the tire situation), there was a certainly amount of latitude afforded Beaux Barfield in adapting the rules on the fly for such an unprecedented situation in the IZOD IndyCar Series. If Hinch had been taken out of the race by a completely random occurrence and the race simply went yellow for a few laps, I would think James simply got shafted and chalk it up to a bad experience. However, since there were two hours of downtime and his pit crew could have made a reasonable effort to repair his car, I think they should have been given that opportunity, even if it meant starting at the back of the field. Yes, I realize the rule book says making repairs under red flag is not allowed, but so too is changing tires, a rule that was waived in this situation.
My hope – I’m sure the hope of everyone – is that a situation like the track failure at Detroit is addressed and corrected before it becomes a factor in the race again. However, should such a strange and out-of-control situation present itself again, I hope the Race Director will be able to use his discretion to right such wrongs as happened to James Hinchcliffe this past weekend. Furthermore, I hope that in rectifying such wrongs, his decision is accepted in the knowledge that it is not one of playing favorites but purely in the best interest of the sport.
Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft are co-editors of MoreFrontWing.com, a website dedicated to helping fans get a grip on INDYCAR news and views. Reach them both at firstname.lastname@example.org.