GAINESVILLE, FL – Blog By RaceChaser Open Wheel Correspondent Joel Sebastianelli – Photo Courtesy IndyCar Media – Welcome to the Verizon IndyCar Series, home of the most exciting racing in the world and the only series where fans, drivers, and owners will complain about close competition and a green flag finish.
Driving an open wheel car at speeds in excess of 220mph is a difficult task, but the most difficult challenge for those involved with the series seems to be pleasing those who watch it.
Admittedly, last weekend’s doubleheader in Toronto was a nightmare for teams and fans alike. Torrential rain rendered Saturday a washout, an afternoon spent sopping wet and waiting for engines to fire. Once they did, the visibility and traction were so poor that while racing was perhaps not completely impossible, it was totally unsafe.
To its credit, IndyCar tried its best to please the fans and get the race in on Saturday. Refraining from attempting to race would have been met with nearly universal disdain, raising questions as to why this race in the rain was any different from the first race in Houston or any other rain soaked event in IndyCar’s history.
Damned if they did and damned if they didn’t, IndyCar did. They rolled the cars out on track for pace laps, but after Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, and even the pace car slid out of control, it became clear that racing wasn’t a good idea—at least not yet.
Realizing they had made a mistake, IndyCar decided to deviate from the rulebook and let the damaged cars, the Verizon sponsored #12 of Will Power among them, work under the red flag to repair damage from pace lap contact since the race start had been called off. Immediately, cries of outrage from other teams and fans poured in, most criticizing IndyCar’s inconsistent enforcement of rules and insinuating that Power’s sponsorship played a role in favoritism.
Playing by the rules is an honorable way to compete, and any series should strive to uphold its integrity through fair and efficient enforcement. However, sometimes rules are meant to be broken—not for an advantage, but for the greater good.
After all, nobody likes a stickler for the rules, right?
These claims that “the rules are the rules” got me thinking back to middle school. In a school that prided itself on enforcing numerous rules, I once was for entering an empty classroom without a teacher to get my backpack in a rush to get on the bus. Sure, I broke a rule…but wouldn’t have been better to see the logic in breaking that rule and behave in a flexible manner to rectify the situation instead of enforcing the rules in a blind, take no prisoners manner regardless of the circumstances? I’d argue that approach makes sense in most areas of life, including on the racetrack.
Fast forward to Sunday. Following an opening lap incident in race one that collected multiple cars, the race was red flagged. Josef Newgarden’s car was damaged and IndyCar rules say teams are not allowed to work under red flags. Although Power and Team Penske could work under red on Saturday, Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing were told they could not. However, this situation was different, a normal racing incident as opposed to an error in judgment made by the series. This decision rankled SFHR and several fans.
Now one week removed from the emotion, take a step back and think about this: what if the roles had been reversed?
What if Josef Newgarden, the charismatic young American in-line for his first victory in the series, had spun during the waterlogged pace laps on Saturday instead of the championship contender and occasionally brash and incident-prone Will Power?
Even if the IndyCar stance is slightly skewed, the viewpoint of the majority of fans seems clear: determining if adjusting the rules to fit the situation is deemed acceptable depends mainly on if the driver in question is a well-liked one. If it was the #67 involved in the chaos on Saturday, I doubt the firestorm of criticism from the fans would have been anywhere near as harsh.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time IndyCar has attempted to make amends for a mistake. Against the advice of the drivers and teams, the 2011 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was restarted in the rain, resulting in a pile up that took out championship contender Will Power, among others. Instead of strictly adhering to the rulebook, IndyCar made the decision to end the race and revert back to the previous caution lap for the finishing order, erasing the impact of the decision to go green when the skies went black.
Once the action finally got underway on Sunday, we were all treated to a great day of racing on the streets of Toronto. The only thing better than one race is two, so the action-packed slate should have been received positively, right?
At the conclusion of the second race, the clock stopped on the timed race when the red flag was unfurled with under five minutes to go. The discussion on whether or not timed races belong in IndyCar is a subject for another rainy day (and one I frown upon), but the series deviated from the plan and halted everything to ensure a green flag finish. Even though Mike Conway held on to win, there was still a faction of fans unhappy with the decision to red flag the race.
Where were these fans in May when officials were praised for throwing the first crash induced red flag at the Indianapolis 500 since 1973 to preserve a chance at a green flag finish? If a race is like a slice of cake, then an exciting finish is like the frosting that makes the desert sweet and worth waiting for. Depriving the fans of that climax, especially those who packed the stands all day on Saturday and Sunday, would have been a travesty.
I will be the first to admit that IndyCar isn’t perfect, but they deserve points for at least trying their hardest. Like any imperfect parent or school teacher, you tend to love them through their faults and remember the good, not the bad.
Maybe the pages of the IndyCar rule book got stuck together in the rain, or maybe those pages are simply written in pencil.
Either way, as long as the racing is clean and competitive, I’m not complaining.