(Ed. note - updated with additional information)
A series that certainly does not need any further controversy got a BP oil rig full of it on Sunday after the Honda Indy Edmonton.
Helio Castroneves, the leader of the race on the final restart with less than five laps remaining, was penalized by IZOD IndyCar Series race control for blocking teammate Will Power, resulting in Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon being named the race winner at the checkered flag.
An enraged Castroneves spent several minutes in berserker mode, screaming at series officials and at one point grabbing IndyCar security chief Charles Burns by the collar and shaking him forcefully. He was scored 10th, the final car on the lead lap, after failing to heed race control's pass-through penalty.
The official race standings were validated by embattled director of competition Brian Barnhart after a lengthy review.
Castroneves committed to an inside line after turning onto the 70-foot-wide Edmonton frontstretch for the final restart. Power remained behind Castroneves for several seconds before sweeping out wide to the left. Castroneves and Power entered the first turn side-by-side, then Power lost traction and fell back behind Castroneves and Dixon.
Power, whose domination of the event was derailed by switching to the lower-grip "black" option tires, claimed Castroneves was blocking but that the penalty was "pretty harsh."
Most drivers interviewed after the race - as well as several drivers not in the race but watching on television who posted on Twitter - concurred that Castroneves blocked Power by choosing the inside line instead of the normal race line.
Barnhart pointed to the following sections of the IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook as justification for his decision:
Rule 9.3 (B) A driver must not alter his/her racing line based on the actions of pursuing Drivers or use an abnormal racing line to inhibit or prevent passing. Blocking will result in a minimum of a black flag "drive through" penalty.
Rule 7.1 (B) (4) (C) (4) The senior official shall determine the type and length of any black flag. The penalized car shall proceed to pit lane as directed by Officials and may return to the Race only upon the declaration of Officials. In the case of the Driver Violating the Rules, no work may be performed on a Car during the execution of a black flag penalty. Should any such work occur, the conditions of the penalty are unfilled and the penalty procedure must be executed again in its entirety on a subsequent lap. The penalty may not be protested and/or appealed.
Rule 9.2 (A) Race Procedure Penalties are a result of a on Track conduct and are generally imposed during on Track activity. If the imposition of a penalty is near or at the end of on Track activity and Driver/Car does not fulfill it, the Senior Official may reposition the Driver/Car in the posting of results or apply the penalty to subsequent on Track activity to reflect the fulfillment of the penalty. The penalty including without limitation any repositioning in a posting is non-protestable and/or appealable.
(emphasis added - Ed.)
According to a story by Dave Lewandowski on IndyCar.com, drivers were warned by Barnhart during the morning drivers' meeting regarding blocking.
"You have plenty of options on where to put your car and we should not have any defending or blocking," he said in the closed-door meeting. "Again, we will be visually dividing the braking point through the entry into the corner in half. You can only be on the inside half if you are attempting to pass someone. If you are on the inside half because you are under attack from someone else, it is blocking. Don't move your car in reaction to a following car and don't impede the progress of a car with a run on you."
However, Castroneves clearly chose the inside line long before the braking point and corner entry - by the time Castroneves and Power had reached the braking zone, Power was not being impeded by Castroneves because Power had moved to the outside line.
Dixon himself committed a clearly-punishable block only a turn later as Castroneves and Power headed for turn two. Dixon, on the inside line, swerved to the outside line to set up for the turn, cutting in front of Power and forcing the Penske driver to swerve and lose momentum. Dixon was not penalized.
The definition of blocking in the IndyCar series has been ill-defined and mercurially enforced in recent years. Several drivers were penalized for blocking at the Indianapolis 500, but at a later race at Texas Danica Patrick's clear block on teammate Tony Kanaan was allowed to pass unpunished.
The Edmonton decision has brought an intense crush of unwanted scrutiny in a week that most IndyCar officials would rather forget. Backlash from the ICONIC chassis announcement was followed by controversy regarding Milka Duno being allowed to continue to compete after series CEO Randy Bernard issued strongly-worded criticism of the Venezuelan driver. An AP story that picked up on Duno and the opposition from the current IndyCar driver corps spurred IndyCar to put Duno under probation until the series finale later this year.
In her first race under official probation, Duno completed less than a lap of the Honda Indy Edmonton before spinning out far at the back of the field. Her #18 CITGO Dallara was listed as officially out soon thereafter.