‘Hell yeah, I blocked’: Debating a controversial last-lap call by IndyCar

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The debate isn’t if it was a blocking maneuver (Graham Rahal readily concedes it was) nor whether blocking is illegal (see Section 9.3.2 of the IndyCar rulebook).

Those are the only black and white elements in the last-lap controversy between Rahal and Scott Dixon that had several shades of gray and a team owner seeing red after pleading his case to IndyCar until he felt blue in the face.

“Right now I’m a frustrated, angry, disappointed team owner,” Bobby Rahal said outside the NTT IndyCar Series hauler, where he spent the better part of 20 minutes lobbying officials who had elevated Dixon to the podium and bumped his son to fourth.

“If that was a NASCAR race, and I touch the guy coming out of Turn 4 in the left rear on the last lap and pass to win, would they disqualify me? No,” Rahal said.

That fell on deaf ears.

“Oh yeah,” Rahal said, adding IndyCar officials essentially replied, ‘We’re not NASCAR.’

“I think it was a bad decision, but that’s my personal opinion.”

IndyCar declined comment publicly, but an official did provide background to reporters. Drivers were told in their prerace meeting that blocking was defined as “movement in reaction to a pursuing competitor” (in the rulebook, it’s described as “A Driver must not alter his/her racing line to pursuing Drivers”).

Dixon said Graham Rahal drew the penalty because he anticipated a pass by his Chip Ganassi Racing rival.

“You’re not meant to react,” Dixon said. “That’s exactly what he did. It forced me not to hit him. I had to brake, get off the throttle.

“I think had he not defended or reacted the way he had done, we would have got the pass easily done. I think it is what it is. We’re going to be OK with it. They’re not going to be happy with it. That’s the way it is. I think Graham has definitely been racing on the edge. Definitely at Barber, some pretty risky kind of situations, too.”

Rahal, though, said Dixon went unpenalized for making the same move on him three weeks earlier at Circuit of the Americas.

“Maybe I didn’t complain enough, but it wasn’t called,” the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver said. “So my biggest problem is that the consistency of the calls is it’s not consistent. It’s this simple.

“I stand behind it even more now that I actually watched it. … Hell yeah, I blocked. Anybody would have blocked. The thing is you can do it legally.”

Rahal said the replays validated his move was “100 percent legal” because the arc of his turn was consistent and to the right, and there were two lanes on the left and another on the right available for Dixon.

“(IndyCar officials) basically just told us, “It’s not going to be overturned, so just move on,’” Rahal said. “That’s the way it works. It’s fine. We’ll protest and continue to fight it, and nothing’s going to happen. But when you watch the head-on video, it’s the perfect case of what a legal block is. I’m allowed to make that move.

“I’m not going to roll over for the guy. I’m not going to roll over for anybody out here … and if they don’t want that, they need to flat-out just say you can’t make a move. But they won’t do that. And so they leave themselves open all the time to this criticism, which if you look at social media, and they certainly don’t want to right now, because it’s not good. You don’t need that. You’re allowed to fight for your position, I feel like.”

Graham Rahal said he looked forward to a discussion of the dispute with IndyCar president Jay Frye. “Jay is ultimately an extremely fair guy,” he said. “I’ll see what his input is on it later.”

Bobby Rahal said his son would have deserved punishment if he had squeezed Dixon into the wall, but “it wasn’t that way.

“I think it’s hard that when you put yourself in those kind of situations where you’re making judgements, you really put yourself between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “Because what are you going to do next time and what constitutes that, and how do you define that? And that’s the problem. There’s people blocking all the time. This morning, Graham’s passing (Josef) Newgarden in practice, and Newgarden is squeezing him into the wall. Is that OK?”

It still could have been worse for Rahal’s No. 15, which was penalized only with a loss of position (three points) instead of a 30-second drive-through penalty that would have been much costlier.

So it at least won’t be remembered as the call that cost Rahal a title.

“If we’re going to get to the end of the season and close but not quite there, Barber’s going to be the dagger for us,” Rahal said, referring to the dozens of points he lost last week because of a surefire top five ruined by a mechanical problem.

Long Beach was much easier to swallow.

“I’m not upset about it,” Graham said. “Is it frustrating? Yeah. But I’m going to go home, eat pizza and watch the Blue Jackets, so I’m OK.”

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).