IRL: CHAMPCAR/CART: Indianapolis 500 appeal decision report, Part I

Part 1 of 2: Team Green, Inc. Appeal Decision INTRODUCTION AND PRESENTATION OF THE ISSUES UNDER APPEAL: On the 199th lap of the 2002 Indianapolis 500 mile race (the "Race"), an accident occurred in Turn Two, resulting in the IRL Officials ...

Part 1 of 2: Team Green, Inc. Appeal Decision

INTRODUCTION AND PRESENTATION OF THE ISSUES UNDER APPEAL:

On the 199th lap of the 2002 Indianapolis 500 mile race (the "Race"), an accident occurred in Turn Two, resulting in the IRL Officials calling for a yellow caution period. The IRL Officials determined that Car #3, driven by Helio Castroneves of Penske Racing, Inc. ("Penske Racing"), was the leader of the Race at the time the yellow caution period commenced, and that Car #26, driven by Paul Tracy of Team Green, Inc. ("Team Green") was in second place.

Car #26 passed Car #3 on the 199th lap. The IRL Officials ruled that the pass occurred after the yellow caution period had commenced. Team Green alleges that Car #26 passed Car #3 before the yellow caution period commenced.

The issues presented by the Appeal are:

1. Whether the determination by the IRL Officials is protestable or appealable, and if so,

2. Whether the IRL Officials properly determined that Car #3 was ahead of Car #26 at the commencement of the yellow caution period on lap #199.

PROCEDURAL SUMMARY:

Background For Appeal

The 2002 Indianapolis 500 mile race was completed on May 26, 2002, and the results of the Race were posted that evening listing Car #3 as the winner. Team Green filed a Protest claiming that Car #26 was ahead of Car #3 at the commencement of the yellow caution period on lap #199, and that Car #26 won the Race. A copy of the Protest was provided to Penske Racing, the IRL Entrant of Car #3. The Protest hearing was held on May 27, 2002, and lasted approximately 2½ hours. At the hearing, each team was given an opportunity to provide information, state its position, and respond to the information and statements of the other team. Brian Barnhart ("Barnhart"), Vice President of Racing Operations of the Indy Racing League, presided over the Protest hearing. At 3:40 p.m. on May 27, 2002, Barnhart issued his decision denying the Team Green Protest.

On June 3, 2002, Team Green filed an Appeal of the denial of its Protest. On June 4, 2002, Penske Racing presented a written request that the Appeal be dismissed on the grounds that the decision by the IRL Officials being challenged by Team Green was not appealable. On June 7, 2002, I informed the teams that, as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Indy Racing League, I would preside over the Appeal in accordance with the Rules and that the hearing on the Appeal was scheduled for June 17, 2002, at which time I would hear all issues presented by the teams. A subsequent request to delay the hearing date was denied.

Access To Information For Appeal

Team Green and Penske Racing each requested access to information from the IRL as part of their preparations for the Appeal hearing. Commencing on June 8, 2002, and continuing through June 16, 2002, the IRL made its information, data and personnel available to both Team Green and Penske Racing. Both teams were also given access to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway race track to take photographs, measurements, etc. The IRL made it clear that any proprietary information which was not owned by the IRL needed to be obtained from, and with the consent of, the owner of such information. As a result, each team, led by its legal counsel, spent a considerable amount of time surveying the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reviewing videos of the Race, and otherwise asking questions and reviewing data.

Appeal Hearing

The hearing on the Appeal commenced at 10:00 a.m. on June 17, 2002, and was completed at approximately 4:00 p.m. that day. In accordance with the Rule Book, each team was afforded the opportunity to present witnesses and exhibits, state its position, and respond to the witnesses, exhibits, and position presented by the other team. Each team was very well prepared, was represented by legal counsel, and professionally presented its position and the information and data which the team believed supported its position.

2002 INDY RACING LEAGUE RULE BOOK, INDY RACING LEAGUE 2002 HANDBOOK, ENTRANT LICENSES AND INDIANAPOLIS 500 ENTRIES:

As a condition of participation in the Indy Racing League, each team agrees to be bound by the terms of the IRL Rule Book. Relevant excerpts from the Rule Book, Indy Racing League 2002 Handbook, the Entrant Licenses and the Indianapolis 500 Entries are contained in the Appendix to this Decision.

POSITION OF TEAM GREEN:

1. Appealability of Decision by IRL Officials

Team Green asserts that there is no issue as to whether a Car was improperly passed during a yellow caution period because there is objective evidence (which Team Green refers to as an "observable fact") that the pass occurred before the commencement of the yellow caution period. Team Green further asserts that the commencement of a yellow caution period is not a judgment call because there is objective evidence of when the track yellow lights came on.

2. Determination of the Leader at the Commencement of the Yellow Caution Period

Team Green asserts that Car #26 was ahead of Car #3 at the time the track yellow lights came on, and that those lights should control. Team Green asserts that the radio call of the yellow caution period by Race Control and the display of the yellow dashboard lights are irrelevant. Team Green further asserts that the dashboard yellow light did not come on in Car #26 before it passed Car #3 (based on the testimony of Paul Tracy) or on Al Unser Jr.'s Car, and that Dario Franchetti testified that Car #26 passed Car #3 before his dashboard yellow lights came on. Team Green asserts that the dashboard yellow lights are not reliable, the timing is inconsistent from Car to Car, and that the only clear evidence of when a yellow light came on is the track yellow lights, noting that the telemetry data only shows when a signal was received by the Car, not when the lights came on. Team Green further asserts that the display of one of the yellow caution flags (the red flag with the yellow cross) should be disregarded since it might have been displayed by the IRL Official in reaction to the call from the Turn Two IRL Official Observer, not in reaction to the call from Race Control. Finally, Team Green asserts that Car #26 completed 200 laps before Car #3, and that under Rule 7.17 Car #26 therefore won the Race.

POSITION OF PENSKE RACING:

1. Appealability of Decision by IRL Officials

Penske Racing asserts that the decision as to whether a Car passed another Car during a yellow caution period is specifically listed as not protestable or appealable under Rule 11.2(D)(2), and that the decision by the IRL Officials that Car #26 passed Car #3 during the yellow caution period fits squarely within that Rule. Penske Racing further asserts that the decision by the Officials as to the position of the Cars at the commencement of a yellow caution period is a judgment call, and as such is not subject to protest or appeal under Rule 11.2(D). Penske Racing analogizes this decision by the IRL Officials to a homeplate umpire in baseball calling balls and strikes, and to a basketball official calling a foul.

2. Determination of the Leader at the Commencement of the Yellow Caution Period

Penske Racing asserts that, even if this judgment call were appealable, the standard of review should be whether the IRL abused its discretion in making its decision. Penske Racing asserts that the IRL did not abuse its discretion, and that no one has even accused the IRL of abusing its discretion, let alone provided any evidence of such abuse. Penske Racing further asserts that, regardless of the standard employed, Car #3 was ahead of Car #26 at the commencement of the yellow caution period, based on Car #3 being ahead when the radio call was made by Race Control, when the red flag with the yellow cross was displayed, when the dashboard yellow light on Car #3 was activated, and at the last time line under green flag conditions.

FINDINGS OF FACT:

League Administration of Yellow Caution Periods and the Purpose of Rule 7.14

In order to put these issues in the proper context, it is important to keep in mind the purpose of the yellow caution system. The yellow caution system is designed for the safety of the drivers. That seems to have been lost in all of this. The system is designed to protect the drivers by identifying, as soon as possible, an unsafe track condition, and then notifying, as soon as possible, the teams and drivers of the unsafe track condition so that the drivers will cease racing as soon as they are notified of the unsafe track condition.

Consequently, the IRL has implemented multiple systems to minimize the time needed to identify an unsafe condition, and to then notify the drivers, taking into account the need for back up notification systems in the event of any system failure or delay. As a result, the IRL has essentially four methods of communicating a yellow caution period: (i) radio instructions (teams are required to monitor and follow instructions from Race Control); (ii) track yellow lights; (iii) mandatory dashboard yellow lights; and (iv) yellow flags, including the pit-in red flag with the yellow cross (which is displayed upon the commencement of a yellow caution period and signifies that the pits are closed). While these systems typically are initiated within a fraction of a second of each other, they are not synchronized because they can't be. Even if you could synchronize them, that would delay the notification and defeat the safety objective. The IRL Officials have repeatedly instructed participants that they are to react to the first notification they receive of a yellow caution period, and that is universally understood among IRL competitors. As a reminder, the IRL Officials instruct the drivers and crew chiefs in mandatory drivers meetings to obey all yellow caution period notices, specifically mentioning the radio call from Race Control, the dashboard yellow lights, the track yellow lights, and the yellow flags, including the red flag with the yellow cross.

As a practical matter, the IRL Officials will call several yellow caution periods by radio throughout a Race. The IRL Officials do not have the benefit of knowing precisely when the yellow flag is displayed, the track yellow lights are displayed, or when the dashboard yellow lights are displayed. The IRL Officials use their judgment in deciding the placement of the Cars at the time the yellow caution call is made, relying on direct visual observation and television monitors in Race Control. That is the only possible way to officiate a race, and the IRL has consistently followed this methodology since the league's inception.

2002 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

The mandatory drivers meeting was held on the Thursday before the Race (Carburetion day). All three of Team Green's drivers and crew chiefs, and both of Penske Racing's drivers and crew chiefs, were in attendance. Additional members of Team Green and Penske Racing were also in attendance. At that meeting, Barnhart specifically stated that the drivers were to obey all yellow caution period instructions, including the track and dashboard yellow lights, the radio call from Race Control, and the yellow flag, including the red flag with the yellow cross.

When the accident occurred on lap #199 involving Car #34 and Car #91, Barnhart received a radio call from the Turn Two IRL Official Observer reporting the incident. Barnhart immediately asked "what have you got", and was told "accident in two". At this time Barnhart is watching the line feed of the ABC broadcast showing Car #3 ahead of Car #26. Barnhart immediately alerted Mel Harder ("Harder") in Race Control , stating "yellow, yellow, yellow, three is your leader," with Barnhart broadcasting over the director's channel. Harder immediately repeated "yellow, yellow, yellow, three is your leader" over the Race Control radio.

Following the Race, the IRL determined that Car #3 was ahead of Car #26 at the following times, and no evidence was presented by Team Green or Penske Racing to the contrary:

(a) At the time of the accident involving Car #34 and Car #91;
(b) At the time Race Control called the yellow caution period by radio;
(c) At the time the red flag with the yellow cross was displayed;
(d) At the time the yellow dashboard light system was activated;
(e) At the last scoring time line before the yellow caution period commenced; and
(f) At the time the yellow dashboard light radio on Car #3 received the yellow light signal.

The telemetry data on Car #3, when synchronized with the Race videos and IRL timing and scoring data, showed that the dashboard yellow light radio on Car #3 received the yellow light signal when Car #3 was in front of Car #26. The IRL obtained this telemetry data directly from Penske Racing, and it also matched up with the other telemetry data downloaded directly by the IRL from Car #3 following the Race. The analysis was performed by Jeff Horton ("Horton"), the IRL Director of Engineering, a highly experienced electronics engineer. Car #26 did not have data acquisition software installed on the Car to record the receipt of the yellow caution radio signal.

The videos of the Race can be interpreted as showing the track yellow lights coming on when Car #26 was outside Car #3 on the third turn. At that moment, Car #26 appears ahead of Car #3 by approximately four to six feet based on an imaginary start/finish line across the race track in turn three, but at that same moment Car #3 would be ahead of Car #26 by approximately ten to twelve feet based on the distance of the Cars to the actual start/finish line. The videos of the Race also show the display of the red flag with the yellow cross in the entrance to the pits when Car #3 was well ahead of Car #26.

ANALYSIS:

1. Appealability of Decision by IRL Officials

The IRL Officials must use their judgment in calling a yellow caution period throughout each Race. During the 2002 Indianapolis 500, the IRL Officials called five yellow caution periods. In officiating a race, the IRL Officials must use their judgment to determine the position of each Car relative to the position of each other Car at the commencement of each yellow caution period. The IRL Officials do not have the benefit of instant replay, telemetry data or any other device to make their judgment. Rather, when they call a yellow caution period on Race Control radio, they immediately determine the placement of all of the Cars from visual observation and from observation of television monitors in Race Control.

That is precisely why the Rule Book states that the decision whether a Car was improperly passed during a yellow caution period may not be protested or appealed. This is a determination Barnhart must make at the commencement of every yellow caution period during every race for every Car on the race track, whether the caution period commences on the first lap, the last lap, or any lap in between. Team Green's effort to second guess this decision is inconsistent with the purpose of this Rule.

In addition to the foregoing specific Rule, the Rule Book also states the general rule that all decisions of the IRL Officials involving judgment are not protestable or appealable. That provision is equally applicable. The IRL Officials must use their judgment in determining the order of the Cars upon the commencement of yellow caution periods throughout each race.

Team Green's position is that the IRL Officials' determination as to the placement and order of the Cars upon the commencement of any yellow caution period during a race is protestable and appealable. Team Green's interpretation of the Rules is not logical and demonstrates the wisdom of this Rule. Team Green's claim that this decision by the IRL Officials is appealable presents the proverbial "catch-22" for Team Green. While it is not logical to claim that the IRL Officials' determination as to the order of the Cars on the commencement of a yellow caution period on lap #30 is appealable, there is also no logical basis for distinguishing the same determination upon the commencement of a yellow caution period on lap #30 and on lap #199, just because the Race happens to end during a yellow caution period on the latter but not the former.

Team Green's claim that there is objective evidence that the judgment of the IRL Officials was in error, based on evidence not available to the IRL Officials at the time they made the call, is tantamount to asserting a right to "instant replay" when the Rule Book does not provide for instant replay. Unlike the National Football League, the IRL Rule Book does not allow for instant replay challenges. At the time the IRL Officials had to make the call, they had to exercise their judgment. No amount of after-the-fact research into technical data changes the nature of the original decision.

For the reasons set forth in this Decision, I have determined that the placement of Cars at the commencement of a yellow caution period is a judgment decision which is not subject to Protest or Appeal. However, the Indianapolis 500 mile race is the biggest single day sporting event in the world. It was my judgment to hear the Appeal filed by Team Green before making a ruling on whether the IRL Officials' decision was subject to Protest or Appeal. My decision to listen to all of the arguments made by Team Green and Penske Racing before making any rulings was based on the unique facts and circumstances of this situation, and should not be construed as precedential for subsequent races.

2. Determination of the Leader at the Commencement of the Yellow Caution Period

Team Green's primary argument is that the nose of Car #26 was four to six feet in front of the nose of Car #3 in the third turn on lap #199 when the track yellow light came on based on an imaginary start/finish line at that point on the track, and that the track yellow light should govern over everything else. Team Green in effect asks the IRL to ignore the literal terms of, as well as the purpose and intent of, the Rules, ignore the radio call of the yellow caution period by Race Control, ignore the display of the yellow flags, and ignore both the activation and display of the on-board yellow light system, even though the IRL has instructed the teams to comply with those directions from the Officials.

Yellow caution periods are a part of racing. Historically, the signal for a yellow caution period was only the yellow flag. In addition to the yellow flags, technology now allows the use of yellow track lights, Race Control radio communications to the teams, and yellow dashboard lights in the race cars. The IRL utilizes all of these modes of communication in order to communicate to the teams and drivers as quickly as possible to promote safety. It is not a perfect system. Each of these modes of communication backs up the others in recognition that any can fail or be delayed in a given instance. These modes of communication are not integrated to initiate at the exact same point in time, because they can't be and synchronizing them exactly would delay the warning system and defeat the objective of maximizing safety. As a practical matter, these communications all occur within a very short period of time.

During a race, a yellow caution period begins when Race Control calls it on the radio. There is simply no alternative for the IRL Officials in running a race. That is how the IRL Officials have consistently conducted races since the IRL began operations. The Rule Book does not provide for "instant replay." The drivers are instructed to react to the first notice they receive of a yellow caution condition, whether a yellow flag, a yellow track light, a yellow dashboard light, or Race Control radio instruction. Barnhart testified that he was watching the television monitor line feed with Car #3 ahead of Car #26 when he called the yellow caution period. That determination required Barnhart to exercise his judgment. Penske Racing provided additional testimony and data supporting the conclusion that Car #3 was ahead at the time of the radio call by Race Control , and Team Green presented no evidence to the contrary and did not dispute this finding by Barnhart on the Protest. While that is the end of the relevant analysis, Penske Racing provided further data supporting Barnhart's decision. Specifically, Helio Castroneves testified that his dashboard yellow light came on while he was ahead of Car #26, and he stated immediately following the Race that Car #26 passed him during the yellow caution period. In addition, Penske Racing presented video showing that the red flag with the yellow cross was displayed with Car #3 clearly ahead of Car #26. Penske Racing also presented data and testimony showing that Car #3 did not lift due to running out of fuel.

Team Green's argument that the track yellow lights should be the "determining fact" is misplaced for several reasons.

First, that argument is violative of the purpose and intent of the Rules. A yellow caution period is called due to unsafe track conditions. Team Green's position is that a driver could ignore Race Control's instructions, whether given by radio or by activating the yellow dashboard lights, ignore the red flag with the yellow cross, ignore instructions given to the drivers during the Carburetion Day drivers meeting, and race under known dangerous conditions until the track yellow light is displayed. That position is contrary to the terms and clear intent of the Rules.

Second, Team Green's argument is not technically sound. Rule 7.14 refers to "yellow lights." The dashboard lights are yellow lights, as are the track lights. Rule 7.14 does not refer only to "yellow track lights." In fact, Rule 1.5 expressly refers to both track yellow lights and dashboard yellow lights. Team Green contends that the on-board yellow light system, also known as the "track condition radio," is intended only to let drivers know when the pits are open. Team Green's contention is simply not supported by the clear language of the Rule Book, the clear intent of the Rule Book and the consistent interpretation of the Rule Book. That contention is also squarely inconsistent with the instructions given by the Officials at the drivers meeting and inconsistent with the general understanding of the competitors. Finally, that contention is simply not logical. Each light system is designed and employed for the exact same purpose, each light system can fail, and each light system backs up the other. The drivers and crew chiefs are specifically told to pay attention to both systems. There is no logical basis for ignoring one but not the other. It is also illogical to claim that a track condition radio doesn't relate to track conditions, but only to whether the pits are open.

Third, the argument that the track yellow light system is the "only reliable one" does not take into account that track light systems, like any other electrical system, can fail. In fact, the track yellow light system did fail the weekend of the 2002 Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, and the drivers responded to the yellow dashboard lights. That situation illustrates the reason for the multiple warning system. To interpret the Rules as allowing a driver to ignore a yellow dashboard light and to ignore Race Control would be extraordinarily dangerous, inconsistent with the intent of the Rules, inconsistent with past practice, and would render the mandatory dashboard yellow light system meaningless.

Fourth, the IRL received technical data indicating that the dashboard yellow light came on in Car #3 while it was in the lead of the Race. Team Green has presented no evidence undermining the reliability of that data. Since the IRL began using the Delphi system in 1998, it has proven to be reliable, it is recognized as the state of the art system in the United States, and it has not caused any "false alarms". Team Green presented the testimony of Paul Tracy and video of Car #7 in support of its claim that the dashboard yellow lights did not come on in those two Cars prior to the pass, but the fact that the yellow dashboard light on those Cars may or may not have come on before or after the yellow dashboard light came on in Car #3 is simply irrelevant. There are elements which can delay receipt of the signal , but nothing causes receipt of the signal before it is sent. The IRL cannot require teams to install dashboard yellow light systems, instruct drivers to react to a dashboard yellow light, and then when they do so, tell them, after the fact, that they would have been better off ignoring the instructions of the IRL Officials.

Fifth, Team Green claims that the red flag with the yellow cross should be disregarded because the timing and scoring information suggests, in Team Green's opinion, that the IRL Official may have waived the flag in response to the IRL Official Observer's radio call, not the radio call from Race Control. That claim is not well grounded. The flagman is an IRL Official, and the teams were specifically instructed to obey that flagman. Team Green can't have it both ways--claim that the time of the call of the yellow caution period by Race Control isn't important, but then claim that it is. The video clearly shows that the flag was displayed with Car #3 in the lead. The race teams are instructed to obey that flag, and they are entitled to rely upon that flag as an indicator of the commencement of a yellow caution period.

Team Green places tremendous emphasis on the track lights. For the reasons set forth above, the time in which the track lights come on becomes irrelevant if, as in this case, other yellow caution period instructions were previously sent. In terms of the track lights, reasonable people can differ as to whether Car #26 was in front of Car #3, or Car #3 was in front of Car #26, at the time the track yellow lights came on. The question is who was ahead at that point on the race track, not who would have won with an imaginary start/finish line in the middle of turn three. In order to win the Race, a Car was required to complete both laps #199 and #200. Car #3, being on the inside, had a ten to twelve foot shorter distance to the start/finish line than Car #26. Team Green claims that Car #26 had the better racing line, but that doesn't mean Car #26 was ahead, only that Car #26 may have been in a position to take the lead had the yellow caution period not commenced. This discussion further illustrates the need of Race Control to exercise its judgment in determining the positioning of Cars at the commencement of a yellow caution period.

Finally, Team Green claims that Car #26 completed 200 laps before any other Car and therefore should be declared the winner of the Race under Rule 7.17. That claim is without merit. Race Control immediately stated on radio that Car #3 was the leader, and directed Car #26 to fall back in line behind Car #3, which it did not do. Car #26 will not be rewarded for ignoring Race Control. The obvious intent of this Rule is to determine the finishing order of the Cars based on the order of completion of 500 miles in accordance with the rulings by the IRL Officials.

DECISION:

I hereby determine that the decision by the IRL Officials as to the order of the Cars upon the commencement of a yellow caution period is a judgment call and is not protestable or appealable. This proceeding and the arguments and information presented have demonstrated precisely why this is not a protestable or appealable decision.

While this decision is based on the foregoing determination, I have also exercised my right under Rule 11.D to review the decision by the IRL Officials, and I have determined that the IRL Officials exercised the appropriate judgment, did not abuse their discretion and were correct in determining that Car #3 was ahead of Car #26 on lap #199 when the yellow caution period commenced. There is ample evidence to support that determination.

I commend both Team Green and Penske Racing on the professionalism they have repeatedly demonstrated throughout this process. Racing is both a business and a sport, and a tremendous amount of time, money and effort, not to mention "emotional capital", was invested in this process by everyone. It is completely understandable that Team Green would be frustrated and disappointed by not being able to run the last lap and a quarter under green flag conditions. The heritage of the Indianapolis 500 includes numerous stories of great competitors who failed to win the race for one reason or another. But for an incident on lap #171, Tomas Scheckter may have become the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500. If Car #26 had not improperly passed Car #21 on lap #171, requiring an extra lap to be run under yellow, the outcome of the Race may have been different. But for a wheel nut that wasn't tightened on lap #176, Gil de Ferran may have won the Race. Part of the mystique of the Indianapolis 500 mile race is that any single development over the course of a 500 mile race can impact the ultimate outcome.

The fact that the Race ended under yellow was not the fault of anyone involved in this proceeding. How it is handled, however, does reflect directly on the participants. In my opinion, this proceeding has highlighted the quality and integrity of the work done by Brian Barnhart and his staff, both during and after the Race, and has also shown the quality and integrity of the personnel employed by Team Green and Penske Racing.

Issued this 3rd day of July, 2002.

Respectfully submitted,


Anton H. George,
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Indy Racing League, LLC

Relevant provisions of the "Rule Book" Part II

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Paul Tracy , Brian Barnhart
Teams Team Penske