Besides Dixon’s, cautions, penalties pepper Sonoma race

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As the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma unfolded Sunday, I felt for head of IndyCar PR Amy Konrath, who was seemingly announcing penalties in the media center as frequently as a lottery host reveals the night’s winning POWER Ball numbers.

Five drivers were issued drive-through penalties for avoidable contact – E.J. Viso, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Sebastian Saavedra and Ryan Briscoe – and Viso and of course, Scott Dixon, were issued drive-throughs for pit safety infractions.

Coupled with seven caution flags, which ties the season high in IndyCar (seven at Brazil), it made for a busy day in Race Control. The race itself lasted more than 2 hours and 20 minutes, a full 40-plus minutes longer than the most recent race at Mid-Ohio three weeks ago, which ran its 90 caution-free laps in just an hour and 40 minutes.

Reactions were strong and largely against IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield’s call to penalize Dixon when he hit the right rear tire, and subsequently Will Power’s pit crewmembers on his last scheduled stop.

I’m not going to take sides here, but I will offer this bit of insight having sat in on a Barfield-directed race control environment before (the American Le Mans Series race in September 2011, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca). It is far easier to make a rash judgment on social media than it is to make a call based on available video evidence, from multiple angles, in a split-second decision. And Barfield is not alone within IndyCar Race Control; the room has several stewards and IndyCar President of Competition and Operations, Derrick Walker, is also there.

Where the violation occurred in this instance was in accordance with Rule 7.10.1.6 (Contact with personnel; under the pit procedures heading) and from that standpoint, Dixon did violate the rule as it is written in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series Rulebook.

Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull were understandably frustrated in the aftermath, but the two are classy enough individuals to where you wouldn’t think either one would accuse another crew of intentionally getting in the way to try to force a penalty.

It seems a daft idea that a crewmember would willingly throw him or herself in the way and risk their own injury. You need to have acute situational awareness when you are over the pit wall in pit lane. If such a situation could be proven, then a penalty should follow, in this writer’s opinion.

IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama final practice report

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Will Power posted the fastest lap in the third practice session for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.953 mph.

Rookie Robert Wickens (122.552 mph) was second fast, foretelling a continuation of his incredible rookie season.

Scott Dixon (122.237), Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.231) and Alexander Rossi (122.106) rounded out the top five.

The practice was interrupted several times for incidents. 

Ed Jones spun off track in turn five after locking up his brakes with 30 minutes remaining in practice three. He was able to drive back to the pits under his own power.

With 20 minutes still on the clock, Jordan King took a trip into the fence after posting a fastest lap of 121.753 mph. He sustained substantial left side damage to his car and came back to the pits on the hook.

“I’m annoyed really,” King said afterward on the live stream at IndyCar.com. “I slightly locked the inside front, then just stayed off onto the grass and that was it. But I wasn’t really even pushing that hard.”

With two minutes remaining, Charlie Kimball lost power and pulled off the track, bringing an end to the practice session.

Dixon also had an off-road excursion.