The IZOD IndyCar Series has lucked out yet again. An appallingly boring race in Japan Sunday (Saturday night here with the time difference) that probably put most people to sleep (it did me, anyway) was saved yet again by the complete and total incompetence of chief steward Brian Barnhart.
Instead of having the race consigned to the dust bin where it belonged – the guys who started on the front row, Scott Dixon and Will Power, finished exactly that way 63 eye-glazing laps later (official order of finish here) – Barnhart went and handed a perfectly justified penalty for passing under the yellow to Helio Castroneves and all hell broke loose.
Castroneves made it known in his past-race interview for the media that he wasn’t happy about being penalized and tore a strip off Barnhart for being inconsistent. Later, when he got hold of his Blackberry in the safety of his motorhome and out of sight of his media handlers, he really let loose and called Barnhart a circus clown, which was reminiscent of a crack Paul Tracy made about Chris Kniefel years ago that cost him $50,000.
(The ever helpful Tracy kicked in on Twitter: "Probably not the best idea to call (Barnhart) a clown, but what do I know . . .")
What led to Castroneves’s blowup was the severity of his penalty. For passing under the yellow (a local yellow, by the way; not a full-course yellow), he was moved from his seventh-place finishing position to 22nd (last car on the lead lap). As I said earlier, it was justified, but . . .
This cost him a lot of money, lost him a lot of points and by being moved back so far it allowed defending champion Dario Franchitti to advance one position, thus reducing the number of points now separating him from series leader Power, who happens to be his (Castroneves's) teammate.
When I said it was an awful race, I mean it. These people are supposed to be professional racing drivers with the ability to handle the cars they drive and I guarantee that you would have seen better racing and better car control if you’d gone out to Mosport at the weekend and watched the Ontario Regional races.
For instance, Simona De Silvestro ran into Giorgio Pantano while trying to pass him. She didn’t stand a hope in hell of pulling it off but that didn’t stop her and she plowed right into him. No penalty.
A few minutes later, driver Joao Paulo de Oliveira smacked into Takuma Sato while trying to pass. Again, no chance of making the pass but full speed ahead anyway. No penalty.
Now it gets interesting.
Franchitti decides to try an impossible pass up the inside on Ryan Briscoe and runs into the back of him. Briscoe spins and bashes into Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal.
Franchitti stalls but is able to get his car going again and goes to the pits where he gets a new nose for the car and some fresh tires. He’s in there for between 25 and 30 seconds and when he leaves the pits and falls in at the back of the field, he is dead last.
Remember that. There will be a test later. In review: Franchitti hits and ruins the races of three cars – all racing in the top five, by the way – and is dead last on the track after spending so much time in the pits.
Barnhart brings down a penalty. For avoidable contact, Dario Franchitti is sent to the "back of the line," where he already is.
Virtually everybody who has been penalized for "avoidable contact" this year has been given a drive-through penalty under green. But not Franchitti, and you can bet this had much to do with Castroneves’s outburst after he was given Life in Prison for something he shouldn’t have done but what was certainly far from being a hanging offence. So here, exactly, is what Castroneves Tweeted:
"Very disappointed for finishing 7th and being put to 22nd. This is just ABSURD."
"Making the famous @paultracy’s words mine: Brian Barnhart is a circus clown."
"In the same race in International television, he penalizes some but not others."
"Brian Barnhart is inconsisent and even changes the rule book when is convenient for him and his own personal interests."
"It is sad to see one person being responsible for bringing down an entire series."
Okay, I suggest Castroneves – who was livid when Barnhart robbed him of a win at the 2010 Edmonton Indy – is really in big trouble this time. Tracy was fined fifty large, had points taken away and was put on probation for the last two races of the year when he let his emotions get the better of him.
But all he did was call Kneifel a circus clown.
Castroneves called Barnhart a circus clown but then accused him of being biased and suggested he is doing what he’s doing on purpose. I suggest a $100,000 fine, the loss of championship points and suspension for the last two races of the season will be the penalty handed down to Helio Castroneves.
Brian Barnhart is incompetent. That’s a long way from being subversive.
– Castroneves might just have saved Ryan Briscoe his job. Before the outburst, it was generally agreed that Briscoe was the odd man out at Penske Racing for 2012, when it’s expected the team will cut back to two cars from the three it’s running now. This outburst might very well have put Castroneves on the bubble.
– To his credit, Tracy tried to calm down Castroneves. Paul Tweeted: "calling a chief steward a circus clown cost me 50k . . . take it easy. . ."
– To all their credits, the Versus broadcast crew was terrific in their analysis of just about everything that was terrible about that race in Japan as well as the awful officiating.
The start was a shambles and Wally Dallenbach Jr. said so, often and loudly. (By the way, he would make a good chief steward, y’all. Why? Because his father was the only chief steward in the history of Indy car racing who could do the job properly and the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
Dallenbach, John Beekhuis, Bob Jenkins and Robin Miller called a spade a spade throughout. When Franchitti made his banzai (kamikaze?) move, Dallenbach said: "He’d better get a penalty for that."
Then, after Franchitti got no penalty (being made last when you are already last is not a penalty), they were all forthright in pointing out Barnhart’s inconsistencies.
– Although they were properly critical of many things about that race, they missed something pretty important. There was an awful lot of exposed concrete around that circuit. At least one of the underpasses (Twin-Ring Motegi twists and turns and goes over and under at several places) had no protection, not even a tire.
Yes, this was the last race but it shouldn’t have been allowed to take place without the proper safety precautions.
– Sebastien Bourdais runs into Ryan Hunter-Reay and beaches him. No penalty. (Oops, are we back to that stuff again . . .?)
– Dario Franchitti will win his - what? - fourth IndyCar championship because the last two races of the year are on ovals. Franchitti runs well on ovals and Will Power does not. End of story.