Taking the 'R' out of the IRL


Eighteenth century French philosophy is not usually the first thing that comes to mind while enjoying IndyCar racing. That all changed with two laps to go in Edmonton on Sunday.


When Helio Castroneves was relieved of victory by Race Director, Brian Barnhardt, for an alleged block of his team mate, Will Power, it became apparent that there is a strong absence of racing experience in race control. More disturbing than that was the lack of rational, or indeed, critical thinking amongst those controlling things on track in Edmonton. Voltaire’s suggestion that ‘common sense is not so common’ could have been written with Brian Barnhardt and his blocking rules in mind, for it is precisely that prized commodity that was absent on Sunday.

There numerous aspects of Barhardt’s tenure which have the potential to disturb. From his insistence on climbing into every cockpit before each Indy qualifying run to his heavy presence on and imprimatur throughout the ICONIC decision, there is cloying body of evidence indicating that he likes to be at the forefront of the sport, taking ownership of everything that happens on his tracks.The late race decision yesterday was simply another example of somebody seeking to inject themselves into the narrative simply because the opportunity was there.

One of the few commonalities between fans of stick and ball sports in the United States and their slightly angrier, inebriated counterparts at football grounds around Europe, is the desire to see a game with minimal intrusion from the officials. How many times do we hear fans and pundits alike express a desire for the guys whith the whistle’s to ‘let the players play’? The universal rule of thumb being that a referee has had a very good game if you didn’t even notice him.

While I’m not advocating the idiocy of the NBA officials and their ‘swallow the whistle in the final five minutes’ routine [which is basically what NASCAR have mandated following their latest ruling on Edwards and Keselowski], I am suggesting applying some context and grown up thinking, especially when this infraction in question does not have to be ruled upon in an instant. Race control had time to review the tape before issuing the penalty and yet they still decided that Castroneves had blocked Power. Circumstances were ignored and more disturbingly, visual evidence and logic were judged to be superfluous to requirements in the whole decision making process (we’re back to the ICONIC decisions again).

Castroneves needed to move to driver’s left in order to take as close to his normal racing line as possible, in doing so, he defended his position on a track that is 75 feet wide, his move left plenty of room for his team mate to make the pass or at least attempt to do so without hitting the outside wall. If this really had been an egregious blocking manouvre, wouldn’t Helio have then moved back into onto his original line to make the turn? This ruling, if strictly enforced will now mean that no driver can ever set himself up in advance to clip an apex again, if he has a driver in close proximity behind him, to do so will be considered blocking. If we are to take this logic to its full and proper conclusion, every time there is a restart on a road or street course we should now expect to see 15-20 cars pulled in for drive-though penalties, right? And a review of the tape would also indicate that Scott Dixon turns left into Power in order to protect his new position and get a better entry into T3, should he now be black flagged retrospectively too? I don’t understand anymore.

In May, Randy Bernard suggested blowing up the IRL and he stated that he and his counterparts should issue "some sort of press statement to show that [IRL] is dead. We need to let people understand we're trying to change." It would now seem that, due to Bernard’s busy schedule, he has only allocated enough time to blow up one letter at a time. On Sunday he let Barnhardt remove ‘Racing’ from the acronym for good in a highly public display that will not soon be forgotten.

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