Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Does Anyone Know the Rules?

A few days have passed since the Grand Prix of Long Beach and I sit here wondering if anyone knows what IndyCar's rules are. From the blend line to track limits to qualifying, the rules were constantly being tested at Long Beach and either not enforced or not enforced to the extend everyone thought they should have been.

Let's start in chronological order and with what has already been forgotten: The extension of the final qualifying session to allow each driver one more lap. Will Power went off course at turn nine and brought out the red flag. While corner workers restarted Power's car, the clock for the final round of qualifying timed out. By the letter of the law, the session must have at least five minutes of green flag and it did on Saturday. The clock expired and the session should have ended. However, everyone was allow one more lap and it altered the starting grid as Juan Pablo Montoya dropped from third to fifth because everyone was allowed one more lap. 

I can understand IndyCar's decision for allowing everyone to run one more lap. Nobody wants to see a session end prematurely and have the clock just run out with the cars in the pit lane but when all the facets of the rules have been met, people want to see rules followed. When a football game ends with a kneel down, the officials don't give the opposing team one more chance for victory. The game went to completion, one team was on top when the clock hit zero, the games is over, regardless if the final play was a kneel down, sack, Hail Mary or field goal. 

On the to race where you had Max Chilton cutting the inside of turn five. He was the only one to do it all race and only did it three or four times but he still did it. The only punishment for the Brit was a warning. 

After the race, Chilton shared his understanding of the rules:
Since when has the inside of curbing been fair game? And if it is fair game, why do the curbs exist at all?

Now lets get back to what everyone remembers from Sunday: The blend line.

Matt Archuleta (@indy44 on Twitter) put together this video of Scott Dixon's pit lane exit and Simon Pagenaud's pit lane exit.

As you can see, Dixon's left-side tires are over the blend line but the right-side tires don't cross the line while Pagenaud crosses the line with all four tires.

But what is the rule? Are the left sides allowed over? In Formula One, zero tires are allowed over the blend line. The car can't rejoin the racing surface until after that line. Crossing the line at any point is improper blending and subject to a penalty. But IndyCar isn't Formula One and the rules are rarely consistently enforced in IndyCar. Even worse is IndyCar is using the lines of the roadway to be the blend line. It's like when I was a kid and the lamppost and a tree were foul poles for kickball. I understand that IndyCar can't necessarily paint more lines on the roadways but look how deep into turn one that double-yellow line goes. The drivers would be making almost more that a 90-degree turn should they go completely pass the yellow line before reentering the racing surface.

Pagenaud only got a warning, the only other driver penalized for the same infraction was Carlos Muñoz and he also only received a warning. Blending properly back into racing line is important because it is a safety issue. You don't want drivers just swinging right into the middle of the racing line when going 20 MPH slower than the cars on track because it is dangerous. However, by only giving Pagenaud a warning for just tip-toeing over the line, that now means everyone gets one free improper blend per race and that could embolden a driver to push the limits on what they can get away with and that should never be the case. The officials should penalize all dissident behavior to make sure it doesn't happen again, whether it is by the perpetrator or any other driver in the field.

What would have been proper punishment for Pagenaud? It seems most think a warning is good enough. Some think Pagenaud should have given the position to Dixon but I don't think that is severe enough. He would have lost the lead but would have had over 20 laps to try and retake the lead. How is putting him on Dixon's gearbox a punishment? The punishment should have been something to take him out of contention for the race victory. It should have been at least a drive-through penalty. It would have ruined Pagenaud's race but it would have been a lesson for him and the rest of the field not to take liberties with the rules.

I don't want to throw the new trio in race control under the bus after three races but this was race control's chance to show the drivers who are boss and that minor transgressions would not be tolerated and they failed to capitalize on the opportunity. IndyCar now heads to another race weekend with drivers, teams, media and fans confused over what is allowed and what is not allowed and confused wondering whether race control knows what the hell it is doing.