Thursday , 22 August 2019

Does IndyCar need a Penalty Rethink?

Simon Pagenaud’s first Team Penske win did not come without controversy. After passing reigning champion Scott Dixon as he came out of the pit lane which involved crossing the blend-in line, it could be argued that the Frenchman’s first win for IndyCar’s greatest active team was a bit hollow. However, as the reasoning behind Pagenaud’s lack of a sanction was down to other drivers (Dixon included) committing the same offence yet also not receiving a penalty, could it be argued that IndyCar needs a rethink when it comes to penalties?

It is surprising to see within IndyCar that there seems to be a number of inconsistent decisions during and after the races. With the likes of Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk in race control, it would perhaps be a bit harsh to immediately point the blame there given their respective experience within American open-wheel racing. However at Long Beach the officiating was simply absurd, and there is not a nicer way it could be put. With drivers cutting the inside of a corner multiple times only getting a warning and then a large number of drivers having a number of wheels over the blend line on pit exit – with no penalties being awarded at all, a fairly dull race was overshadowed by the quality of the stewarding – or lack of, which starts to raise questions about where the problems lie within IndyCar.

When it comes to improper blending, rule 7.1.3.5 states that “taking improper position upon leaving the pit lane or failing to follow the direction of IndyCar may result in a penalty.” The word ‘may’ is where the issue really lies. It is a grey area. What constitutes improper action, and what does not? Having grey areas within rulebooks is not the greatest of ideas, and turning a blind eye to one person performing an offence which in F1 for example would be a clear-cut penalty, just leads to far more confusion than is necessary. The only time where going across the line should be allowed is when there is another car blocking the circuit. Once the stewards start turning a blind eye to one driver, then they need to start doing so for every driver.

It’s not the first time in recent years that we have seen a supposedly ‘hollow’ victory: Graham Rahal did not receive a penalty in the chaotic Fontana race last year, despite a pit-lane violation, and we also saw Sebastien Bourdais keep his win at Iowa in an illegal car. I am by no means a fan of seeing penalties thrown left, right, centre and all sorts of directions (it is one bugbear I have with Formula E for example), however the inconsistencies within IndyCar’s penalty system irks me even more than that. I am also not a fan of seeing drivers excluded for technical infringements or race results being decided in the stewarding office (just look at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, in which we still do not know the official result), but the rules which determine these things are more often than not there for good reason – primarily for safety reasons.

One way which IndyCar does deal with certain incidents is to deduct points from the offending driver, which is not too bad. However the number of points deducted (a mere three points for both Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay for incidents at NOLA and Indy last year irrespectively) rarely seems to fit the crime, when a time penalty, a drive-through or a grid drop in the case of Hunter-Reay would have seemed far more sensible. Perhaps IndyCar should not go as strict as some series when it comes to certain infringements, but what is defined as okay and what is not defined as okay really must be set in stone, or we could see the championship determined by a non-penalty due to the leniency and inconsistencies within the rulebook.

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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