1. Bad call ruins exciting Honda Edmonton Indy
2. No call – bad or otherwise – ruins German Grand Prix
3. Young Canadian Turks win open wheel, NASCAR races
Officials were involved in the finishes of two of yesterday’s three races and both times they botched the job.
I always say that if you’re going to do anything, do it right or don’t bother. The stewards (plural) in Formula One and the steward (singular) in IndyCar should pay heed.
We’ll deal with the IndyCar controversy first. It happened here, in Canada.
Brian Barnhart, the IndyCar steward who’s been frequently criticized over the years for wielding power that many say he isn’t qualified to hold, determined that Helio Castroneves, who was leading the Honda Indy Edmonton, blocked his teammate, Will Power, on a late-race restart.
I have watched this incident half-a-dozen times (you can watch it here) and I have absolutely no idea what Brian Barnhart was thinking.
Blocking is when a driver gets in front of another driver and forces him to either stand on the brakes or take some other evasive action.
Helio Castroneves never blocked Will Power on that restart. They were side-by-side. How is that blocking?
As they headed for the second turn, still side-by-side, Power had to back off because Castroneves had the line. He backed off so much that Scott Dixon passed him for second place.
Barnhart, in his wisdom (he and Castroneves have a history; this is not the first time he’s levied a penalty against the Brazilian driver for blocking), determined that Castroneves should serve a drive-through penalty.
Castroneves refused to acknowledge the black flag (shades of Scott Goodyear at Indy in 1995!) and crossed the finish line first, with Dixon right behind.
Dixon was declared the winner, without having led a single lap. Power finished second and Dario Franchitti was third. Castroneves officially finished tenth, the last car on the lead lap.
Castroneves didn’t do his cause any good by going completely bananas when he got out of his car afterward. Screaming and yelling and carrying on, he actually grabbed an IRL security officer by the shirt and finally had to be restrained by his boss, Team Penske president Tim Cindric, and others.
Just about everybody in Edmonton, including the TV commentators, felt Castroneves was robbed except three people – the two Chip Ganassi drivers Dixon and Franchitti, and Castroneves’s Penske teammate Power, all of whom benefitted by the decision.
Now, the motivations behind these reactions were interesting.
Dixon is Mr. Perfect. He’s a real holier-than-thou guy (I mean, he never does anything wrong on the race track ) and so you expect a guy who’s as arrogant as he is to pile right on.
Franchitti? Sure, he was delighted because the penalty put him on the podium, a place he wasn’t good enough to be on this day. But to say Barnhart made the right call was the pot calling the kettle black because Franchitti has thrown a block or two in his time. So people in glass houses shouldn’t . . .etc.
Power? That’s a puzzler. He said Castroneves deserved the penalty.
Power knows Penske will likely only keep two drivers in 2011 and perhaps he thought he was helping to solidify his position with the team by throwing Castroneves under the bus.
But I don’t think that works with the Captain. In fact, he might consider that a backstab. From what I’ve seen of, and heard from, Roger Penske over the years, I don’t think he likes backstabbers.
In Roger’s world, you’re on a team. His team. The team wins together and loses together. It does not wash its dirty laundry in public. It keeps it in the family.
Will Power could have done himself a bigger favour by keeping his mouth shut.
Meantime, in Formula One, the stewards who were so quick to levy five-second penalties several races ago against drivers for driving too quickly behind the safety car (!), and drive-through penalties for such serious crimes as passing another car while cutting a corner, chickened out completely yesterday after Ferrari manipulated the final results of the German Grand Prix.
In a nutshell, Felipe Massa had the measure of the field on this day, including his Ferrari teammate, Fernando Alonso. He was on his way to winning his first Grand Prix since his near-death experience a year ago when he was told by the team to let Alonso pass him.
Which he did by slowing down and pulling over to the side of the road.
Alonso won the race, followed by Massa and Red Bull driver Sebastien Vettel.
Now, there are many people who don’t see anything wrong with team orders. As a friend of mine said last night, "that’s why they call it a team."
But Formula One moved to stop such blatant manipulation of the results a number of years ago – in 2002, to be exact – after Rubens Barrichello slammed on the brakes to let Michael Schumacher pass him and win the Austrian GP.
The rule in question states simply: "Team orders that interfere with race results are prohibited."
Seems kind of cut and dried, doesn’t it?
For some reason, the stewards failed to take action. Yes, they fined Ferrari $100,000, which is pocket change, but kicked the final decision on any real penalty upstairs to the World Motorsports Council.
Guess who runs that show? The new FIA president, Jean Todt, that's who. He's the guy who was in charge of Ferrari when Barrichello was told to let Schumacher past, or else.
Gee, I wonder what the result of that meeting’s going to be. . .
OTHER RACE RESULTS AND NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS GENERALLY
– Robert Wickens of Guelph and Toronto won the GP3 Series race at Hockenheim on the weekend. Daniel Morad of Markham won a race in that series at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago. Good for those two young guys, who will be racing again next weekend at the Hungarian GP. I’ll be talking about them with the Star’s special F1 correspondent ,Gerald Donaldson, in our pre-Grand Prix podcast next Friday noon at wheels.ca
– James Hinchcliffe of Oakville won the Indy Lights race at Edmonton yesterday, his second victory in that series this season. Philip Major of Ottawa was 10th.
– Jamie MacMurray won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, giving owner Chip Ganassi victories in the Daytona 500 and the two races at Indy, the IndyCar 500 and the NASCAR 400. Although his team "won" the IndyCar race at Edmonton, deep down the Chipster knows they really didn’t.
Jacques Villeneuve – and who knows what he was doing in a NASCAR race – finished 29th, three laps down. Juan Montoya seemed to have the race in the bag but crashed.
– J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge easily won the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Edmonton, with Anthony Simone of Holland Landing second and Scott Steckly of Milverton third. Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., wasn’t entered this time.
- Greg Pickett and Klaus Graf driving a Porsche RS Spyder Prototype won the American Le Mans Race at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut on Saturday. Patrick Long and Joerg Bergmeister won the GT Class in a Porsche 911.
– Hey, what was with that Mercedes grandstand at Hockenheim? Taking a cue from U.S. college football games, spectators in the ‘stand held up bristol-board cards that spelled out "Nico & Michael."
But shouldn’t that have been, "Michael & Nico"? Is Mercedes starting to apply subtle pressure to force Schumacher out?
Don’t laugh. F1 is a cut-throat business.
– Talking about cut-throat, did you see the way Red Bull stuck it to Mark Webber yesterday?
Webber, we all recall, didn’t make any lasting friends at that team by sticking in the knife and twisting it at Silvertstone two weeks ago after the team took a new, experimental, front wing off his car and put it on his teammate Vettel’s car just before final qualifying.
Well, Webber qualified fourth for Germany and held his position from the start. But the team called Vettel in very early, on Lap 13, for fresh tires and sent him out on his lonesome, in clean air, to make hay while the sun shone. They called Webber in a lap later and released him right into the middle of a pack of back-markers.
Webber qualified fourth, started fourth and finished sixth. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button passed him "in the pits" while he was stuck amidships.
I’ll be surprised if he wins another race this year.
– By the way, Vettel – in trying to pull a Schumacher and just about forcing Alonso into the retaining wall at the start – was paying so much attention to Fernando that Massa passed them both. Perhaps Vettel should pay more attention to racing.
Memo to Brian Barnhart: Dear Brian, now that's blocking. . . .
– Felipe Massa was forthright when speaking about his actions. "You work for the team," he said, which is the mark of a good team player. Are you listening, Will Power?
– Is Alonso getting old? He stretched his lower back muscles twice after getting out of the car.
-- Paul Tracy applied the chrome horn to Raphael Matos yesterday. Last year in Edmonton, he drop-kicked Mario Moraes off the racing surface. They like him in Edmonton. He finished sixth yesterday. Let's hope he subs for the injured Mike Conway at Dryer & Reinbold again. They do not want to continue allowing Tomas Scheckter in their car.
Alex Tagliani was wrecked by Tony Kanaan. Why no penalty for that? Sure looked like careless driving to me.
– Milka Duno has been put on probation for the rest of the year because she’s so slow. Okay, but why did they choose to embarrass her? What did she ever do to them?
Did they do that to Dr. Jack Miller? Marty Roth? Scheckter? Hideki Mutoh? Moraes? I could go on.
They could have handled her situation better. She has sponsors, and commitments. They could have let her practice and then benched her for qualifying (something they've actually been doing). Then, they could have let her start last on condition that she pull in after five laps. Then, at the end of the year, they could very quietly have told her not to come back.
– The Edmonton race was a bit like Toronto in that they had pretty good racing for awhile and then there was yellow flag after yellow flag.
– The Indianapolis 500 field got through turn one in May year before Davey Hamilton spun out and crashed in turn two. The NASCAR field got through turn one yesterday before Kyle Busch spun out in turn two and six other cars crashed, as a result.
– The Indianapolis Speedway had a lot of empty seats yesterday. But it was still more than half full, which means more than 100,000 people were at the Brickyard 400.
I know promoters who would kill for that number.