This weekend’s third race of the Verizon IndyCar Series at Barber Motorsports Park has plenty of intrigue going in.
There’s ill feelings between point leader Will Power and his former teammate Simon Pagenaud. There could even be dissension at Andretti Autosport, where James Hinchcliffe got collected in the aftermath of 2012 champion (and Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach pole winner) Ryan Hunter-Reay’s optimistic pass of Josef Newgarden. There’s question marks up and down the grid as to rules of engagement on the track. It appears there’s still some ill will between Team Penske teammates Power and Helio Castroneves after Power’s restart in the first race of the year.
Nowhere better to settle grudges than at a permanent road course built for motorcycles, right? The Barber racetrack is slim, winding and undulating; it makes for even closer quarters than on a street circuit like Long Beach and a street/airport racetrack like St Petersburg, site of the season opener. At least there’s some runoff area should things get too tight.
With less than two weeks since the Roar by the Shore, uneasy feelings are still prevalent amongst those whose races were in tatters due to the actions of others.
Let’s see now: Graham Rahal gets a penalty for spinning Justin Wilson but Power doesn’t for punting Pagenaud? RHR gets no penalty for taking out then-leader Josef Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, Castroneves, 2013 LB winner Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan and rookie Jack Hawksworth in a corner known for its lack of passing, something Hunter-Reay thought feasible? Sebastien Bourdais incurs two penalties for stopping in a closed pit for repairs? I thought that was legal, but you couldn’t take on tires or fuel during that type of stop. Guess I was wrong.
Then rookie Carlos Huertas gets a penalty for getting on the loud pedal early on a restart but 2013 champion Scott Dixon’s punt of Wilson went without any penalty. Sebastian Saavedra is on probation for over-driving the RHR incident, after the incident was investigated mid-race. I guess Dixon received his penalty in having to stop for fuel, allowing Mike Conway to earn his second Long Beach win, but where’s the consistency here?
As this Barber race meeting begins on Friday, and most of the participants will be on-site by Thursday, it’s as good a time as any for a racer’s summit. Competition used to be life-and-death and, thankfully it isn’t on a weekly basis any longer. When racing was a much more dangerous and cruel sport, drivers had to exhibit civil behavior or, sure as sunrise they could be maimed or dead.
These days it’s not so much the case, although we’ve had our share of tragedy over the past few years. Some of the accidents that occurred in Long Beach would have had far more consequences than Hinchcliffe’s severely sprained wrist, had they happened back in the day. All of the safety strictures implemented over the years have kept drivers far more safe than they used to be, but looking at that fact with complacency will breed trouble for the Indy car drivers.
As Pagenaud said during his press conference this week, “I’m still disappointed in his (Power’s) action, although I understand racing can be tough sometimes.” He went on to remark that his former squad mate “set the tone for the rest f the season. We’re going to be racing hard against each other; I’ll try to be as clean as I can be.”
If the rules are similar to Long Beach, “It’s going to get pretty crazy pretty quick. We are racers; we all want to win,” Pagenaud said. “We all try to get into a gap that’s sometimes too small. There needs to be some regulation sometimes that tells us what we can or cannot do.” And it can’t be different from one week - or one lap - to another, right?
So I’m hoping there will be a casual get-together on Thursday between drivers and officials to discern a code of ethics that works for everyone involved. As fans, we all want hard racing; as racers, they want to race hard and fair. It doesn’t always work that way but, at this point in time it’s apparent that guidelines need to be set. How about these participants find some middle ground that works for the vast majority?