Monday, August 15, 2011

Indycar Officials Take Mulligan, Ryan Hunter-Reay Takes Win

Hunter-Reay in a muted victory lane
at NHMS
In a race filled with typical wheel to wheel short track action, INDYCAR officials dropped the ball on a final restart in the rain, needlessly wrecking several cars on a wet NH Motorspeedway. Ryan Hunter-Reay was named the winner at Loudon after race officials essentially took a mulligan, and reverted to the standings as they were at lap 215, before the restart.

Brian Barnhart, President of Competition Operations for IndyCar, took the heat, and took the blame for the mess at the end. "Where to start? It's obviously a challenging day for us out there from the get‑go with the late start, scheduled with the television windows and where we are at, knowing we had weather coming in, adjusting the start time to begin with was the first step." Barhardt said.

He continued. "But it followed through with some of the more difficult calls you ever have to make from a Race Control point of view. And that's when you get indecisiveness in terms of what the weather is doing on the racetrack and whether you have a safe condition to continue racing on the racetrack. It would be one thing if it rained hard, your decision's a pretty easy one to make. But when you get calls from track safety and observer posts around the racetrack that report light moisture, the tough decision is to make that call whether you continue with the event or not. That's been the most difficult and challenging thing, because no matter what, our number one priority in every decision we make is safety."

"And when you're responsible for the safety of those 26 drivers out there, every time you go and give them a track condition, they're counting on you to make the right decision. Obviously towards the end of that race, with the attempted restart, we made the wrong one. And that's one of those things that just makes you feel sick to your stomach, when you do it, because you know after the fact, of course, that you chose poorly."
Ryan Hunter-Reay leads at NHMS

"And more often than not we certainly make the right calls, but, like I said, when you kind of get those in‑between moisture calls out there and we had, based on the information that was given to us that the track was in a position to go, we're trying to do ‑‑ we actually had done something prior to that restart."

"It was the first time we had done it. We moved all the lead lap cars up to the front so that we had the lap traffic out of the way trying to do the double file restart with the lap traffic in the back and give everybody a real good shoot‑out and a green flag finish. Obviously you want to make the effort that you can for the fans on television and the ones that are in the grandstands here, but you can't do that at the expense of safety. And, like I said, as soon as you had the guys stand on the gas out there you saw right away it was the wrong decision to make. At that point in time you are just kind of sick to your stomach and realize it was an error on race control standpoint, and clearly my fault."

Drivers have complained about the double file restarts in INDYCAR throughout the season, and Loudon was no exception. Before the final incident, race leader and championship leader Dario Franchitti was taken out in an accident on the front straight. On a restart after an incident involving Tony Kanaan, Thomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti, leader Franchitti touched second place driver Takuma Sato, sending Franchitti into the inside wall a few feet before the granite start finish line at NHMS. Sato clearly squeezed Franchitti coming off turn 4, but Franchitti did not hold his line, and drifted into Sato. The wreck also collected JR Hildebrand.

Franchitti sounded as though he was completely innocent of any wrong doing. "He (Takuma Sato) kept coming up and I don't know what he was going to do. He had a very clear view of where I was and he kept coming up. We had a good race car overall and we were strong all weekend. It is really unfortunate for Team Target. He started coming up into me before the restart. I really don't know what he was thinking." the defending series champ said after.

Fast forward to the final sequence. With 19 to go, caution waved for light rain, with Hunter-Reay the leader. At nine to go, officials gave the "one to go" signal, much to the surprise of the folks on pit road. Hunter-Reay chose the outside lane over second place Oriol Servia, but it was Servia that got the jump and crossed the start/finish line ahead of Hunter-Reay. As they, along with Scott Dixon, raced for the lead, Danica Patrick looped her GoDaddy.com car as soon as she applied throttle. The Man With The Best Name In Auto Racing- Will Power, Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato and Ana Beatriz were collected in the ensuing melee.

The drivers were very upset with the officiating, notably Will Power, who flipped officials a double middle-finger salute. Race officials then called the mulligan, and reverted to the running order prior to the wreck. It was then a lose-lose situation for everyone but Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was named the race winner when the checkers were shown.

Will Power becomes an FVP hero
"First of all, I have to apologize for losing my temper after the accident that ended our race." new FVP hero Will Power said. "I should not have behaved the way I did and I am sorry. It's definitely no excuse but I was just very frustrated because our car ran so well and our team had worked so hard to put ourselves into a position to get a good finish and I thought it was just ridiculous to restart the race under the dangerous conditions that existed on the race track. I am just glad the officials decided to make the decision to revert the finishing order back to what it was before the final restart. I want to thank my team for their hard work today and, again, I'm sorry for the way our race ended and how I handled the situation."

"Yeah, it could be better if they didn't screw up the results like they have." new points leader Scott Dixon said. "I don't know. It's been obviously a good couple of weeks. Today we just kind of stayed out of trouble."

Dixon had some pointed comments for INDYCAR officials
Dixon continued "When have we ever gone back ‑‑ we're not racing dirt cars, we're not racing USAC. We don't go back to a previous restart. We don't count pace laps. When has that ever happened in IndyCar racing? Never, since I've been in my 10 years. You know, so it's just confusing. I don't really ‑‑ you know, as Oriol said, which I stated earlier, Ryan deserved to win the race. Oriol won. I finished second. Ryan didn't go. We went past the restart cone. You snooze, you lose. That's the same thing that happened to Conway at Edmonton. If you don't go, it's free game. And he didn't go."


Servia was also not happy. "It's clear. If there would not have been the crash they would not have reversed the order, because I was ahead. And it's like actually at the start of the Indy 500, Tagliani didn't go. He crossed the line first. And I crossed second. They didn't reverse. He didn't go when he was supposed to. That's the start of the Centennial of the Indy 500, we wanted him to lead, but he was sleeping, I don't know what he did. But the same thing happened now. I just feel like at the end I won the race. That's how I feel."

Danica Patrick fell on her sword a bit "That was definitely my mistake. I got on the throttle and it came around. I take full responsibility for that one and the mess that it created. I was one of many people who thought that we shouldn't be going green. I was like 'what are we doing? What are they doing' I left it in first gear and not getting traction. I'm one to finish races and be smart and get through it all, but it was slippery out there."

Ed Carpenter shares his thoughts
with Roger Penske after the final incident.
"I couldn't even warm the tires it was so wet." winner Hunter-Reay said. "I don't think the fans at home understand how wet it was. We have a very small contact patch and the Firestone contact patch is amazing but when there's some rain down, there's nothing there. I couldn't even put the power down in second or third. Wrong move on race control's part. We had such a great car today. I love these short ovals. They are so much fun. It was a strange day. But sometimes racing is strange."

"To have our race ended by a poor officiating call, trying to restart a race in the green while it's raining, is just really unfortunate." Ed Carpenter said afterward. His comments were right on the money. It was a damn shame that INDYCAR couldn't get this one right. It's clear they wanted a good finish at a new track in a new market. What they ended up with was a mess. It is, however, extremely refreshing to hear drivers like Will Power and others call out the poor officiating. That would never happen in the goose stepping world of NASCAR. Drivers should be allowed to be human, have some personality and emotions, and share that with the fans.

In the end, INDYCAR's trip back to the Magic Mile was a success. They may not have gotten the racing they wanted, and fouled up the race in the process. What they did get was an opportunity for drivers to vent, something that NASCAR fans seldom see anymore.

Photo Credit: All images except Will Power Salute: Steve Pouliot Images for Fanviewpoint.com

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