Friday, March 25, 2016

IndyCar Officials State Their Policy By Not Stating Anything at All

We are nearly two weeks removed from the IndyCar season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and no penalty has been handed down to Carlos Muñoz for causing the lap 57 caution that ruined Graham Rahal's race as well as a handful of other drivers.

Last year, IndyCar officials attempted to retroactively punish drivers when causing accidents that ruined another driver's race. Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay was deemed to have caused an accident with Simon Pagenaud and Sébastien Bourdais at the one and only Grand Prix of Louisiana. Hunter-Reay was placed 19th, Bourdais 20th and Pagenaud 21st. Hunter-Reay was fined three points, dropping him from 11 points scored to eight points, fewer than the two French drivers. Later that season, at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Hélio Castroneves ran into the back of Scott Dixon at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Both drivers would continue but Castroneves would go on to finish sixth while Dixon clawed his way to tenth. Castroneves was fined eight points so he would leave the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with one fewer than Dixon but appealed and his penalty was changed to a three-point deduction to be consistent with Hunter-Reay penalty.

These types of deductions have a precedent in IndyCar. In 2003, Tora Takagi finished third at Texas but scored only 12 points from that race after causing an accident that ended Scott Sharp's and Felipe Giaffone's race. Takagi left with one fewer than the Brazilian instead of the 35 points third place paid.

The penalty actually makes a lot of sense and doesn't intrude much on the results. Instead of issuing time penalties post race, this penalty keeps the results intact, not stripping those attending the race from what they saw and a driver is punishment so they cannot significantly benefit other those they wronged during the race.

At St. Petersburg, Muñoz hit the back of Rahal, putting the American in the barrier and causing five other drivers to lose positions and putting Bourdais and Oriol Servià a lap down. Muñoz would be given a stop-and-go penalty on lap 64 but Muñoz would remain on the lead lap while Rahal, Bourdais and Servià never made it back on the lead lap. Muñoz ended up benefitting as the Ganassi cars of Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball all made pit stops for overheating issues and moved the Colombian up the order. Bourdais ended up retiring while Rahal and Servià both finished outside the top fifteen.

Nearly two weeks later and Muñoz has had no points deducted nor has he been fined for his actions. I don't want to throw the new trio under the bus already but I can live with this if this is the standard going forward. Muñoz was punished in the race and there is no need to punish him afterward. I can live with that. But perhaps penalties should be a little harsher, especially if drivers lose laps because of another driver's actions. Muñoz was punished but he stayed in contention while at least three drivers were taken out of contention because of his mistimed move. Shouldn't Muñoz at least been held for one-lap, putting him on the same level as those he wronged?

Rahal, Bourdais and Servià lost their laps because they could not be restarted and were at the mercy of the marshals to restart not only their cars but also the cars of a handful of other cars. Perhaps IndyCar should automatically throw a red flag when anymore than three cars need to be restarted that way races are not ruined because of the order in which the cars are restarted. This also speaks to the issue IndyCar has without on-board starters or a properly working anti-stall system.

Muñoz admitted his mistake and he doesn't have a history of running over other competitors but the bigger take away is how the officials handled it and what this means for the rest of the season. The officials are not going to wait for a Tuesday press releases stating who lost points over what infraction. It is going to be taken care of during the race. While that is something I think most will appreciate, the next step is making sure the penalties are severe and not just slaps on the wrist.