Will Power’s trouble free win at the GoPro ‘Firestorm’ of Sonoma

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A look back at Will Power's return to the top step.

Will Power's trouble free win at the GoPro 'Firestorm' of Sonoma

The well publicized Rim Fire firestorms that are ablaze near Yosemite National Park spreading at about 10,000 acres a day were not the only things burning in Northern California over this last weekend.

In a very hotly contested 15th race in a 19 race season, Penske Racing's Will Power survives seven YELLOW Flag full-course cautions (a Sonoma Raceway IndyCar race record - five took place before lap 30 of 85 was completed), tightly packed restarts, and a pit stop incident with Ganassi's Scott Dixon to secure his first win in 26 races ... dating back to April of 2012 in Brazil.

With scant few chances to rein in the winning ways of season championship points leader, Penske's Helio Castroneves, Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon was hoping to cut into the 33 point advantage Helio had over his goal at a IZOD IndyCar Series (IICS) Championship. Scott had done everything right in qualifying at P2 next to his P1 team-mate Dario Franchitti and ahead of Helio's P5,  staying out of trouble through the caution-filled Sonoma hills affair by leading a lap (1 point) and leading the most laps (3 points), and by keeping Will Power, Helio's team-mate behind him on the track.

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: James M. Holland

That is, UNTIL final pit-stops on Lap 64 of 85 when Will Power and Scott Dixon came in at the same time and the rush was on to get out first.

The problem came about because Will Power's pit box was right in front of Scott Dixon's box and this is exactly where the firestorm of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma begins. This firestorm may never end and it involves the reaction to the pit-out actions of Scott Dixon, Will Power's right-rear crewman, the penalty ruling from Race Control, and post race statements made by Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Penske Racing's team owner, Roger Penske.

On pit-out, Scott Dixon applied the torque to the rear wheels and had his rear end fishtail out of his pitbox where his left-rear slid close enough to Will Power's right-rear crewman who was carrying the removed used right-rear tire back to the pit wall, taking it off of the track, when Dixon touched Power's carried tire sending it into the air and knocking down the crewman ... which touched off a chain reaction that involved a second downed Penske team crewman.

At the time of the incident, if the race had ended with Dixon in the lead, as he would have been if his car did not touch anything on the way out of the pits, and the rest of the field remained in the same positions, Dixon would have been only 8 points behind Helio in the IICS championship points race (a nice move from 33 to just 8).

Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: James M. Holland

But driver Dixon did hit something and this can always have serious consequences. Thankfully, no one was injured enough to require medical care, but after a review from all available video, including a very helpful overhead shot, a stop and go penalty was assessed to Scott Dixon placing him deeply back in the field.

In a post-race interview with Robin Miller (Racer.com), Scott Dixon's team-mate, Dario Franchitti accused the Team Penske crewman, and thereby Team Penske, of unprofessional tactics in pitlane. Dario said - edited, "You can't be doing these, sort of, professional falls and stuff. Since I've been in CART, IndyCar, whatever ... when you are fighting for a championship, and race wins, you always end up with the guys you are fighting with the in pitlane, and there has always been that respect, and today a [professional] line was crossed. It's dangerous out there, man. I think the penalty was on the wrong team."

When questioned by Stephine Wallcraft (More Front Wing.com) with this accusation in a post race press conference, Roger Penske was not very happy with the Franchitti position.  “I think you should look at the tape.  Our man who changed the tire picked the tire up, was running behind the car.  It wasn’t that he stuck the tire out.  He didn’t leave the tire on the ground where it could have been in the way.  I think they’re way overplaying this thing as far as I’m concerned.  Someone got hit, went up in the air.  Obviously the 9 car was too close to our crew, had an accident there.  The outcome is obvious. These are things that are pretty clear in the rule book.  You go to 701.16 in the rule book, if a team member gets hit in the pits, there’s a drive-through.

“I’d love to have Dario here.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s off base.  Our guys were doing a job, changing the tires, picked the tires up, got hit by a car from behind. You start to get personalities into this, what we’re doing running for a championship, it’s ridiculous.”

As far as Race Control was concerned, the Rule Book is king ... and there does not seem to be anything to cover what the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team drivers are accusing Penske Racing crew members of doing. This process has never been about accommodating personalities with Beaux Barfield - the job is not a popularity contest.

Beaux Barfield
Beaux Barfield

Photo by: Jay Alley

"Ultimately, we have a duty to protect everybody in the pit lane," Barfield said. "If we have somebody who  uses less than great judgment when they leave their pit box and we have an incident, then we have to make a statement by penalizing. And we're going to make that call. There are a couple of different (video) angles, and clearly the 9 car crosses right into the 12 car's space and that's where the violation occurred. He was in the 12 car's box for a good half-car length."

Scott Dixon, obviously, didn't agree. There were seven penalties issued in the race, including another for a pit safety violation by E.J. Viso (running over an air hose), in the contentious race.

"It's probably the most blatant thing I've seen in a long time," said Dixon, who started on the front row and was seeking his fourth victory in the past five races. "I had a straight line and he walked into us. Pretty annoyed with that; we had a strong car all day."

It probably doesn't help to quell the firestorm to cite Will Power's, out of context, post race quote when he said, "This year is to make sure Helio wins the championship.  We're going to help him any way possible ... ."   

As for the fan, the race was not a nose to tail freight train - which spells entertainment - and this firestorm will not be contained to just the competitors on the grid. This firestorm will not be surrounded and dosed out with water in the near future, what with four races left in the season this firestorm will become white hot before it dies down ... if it ever will.

Obviously, here at the hills of Sonoma Raceway, professionalism ... or the lack thereof, is in the eye of the beholder.

The only true innocent here at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma was probably Helio Castrroneves, himself, who comes away with an additional six point advantage in the chase for his first ever IICS crown (no current Penske Racing team driver has won an IZOD IndyCar Series championship - amazing), from 33 to 39, and is the only driver in the 2013 season to complete all of the laps of every race with 1,928 circuits.

... notes from the EDJE

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Blog
Tags indycar, penske, power, sonoma, will