By now anyone who follows racing in the US is aware of what transpired at the Edmonton Indycar race on July 25th when Helio Castroneves had a win taken away from him for what to most viewers was a very egregious blocking call. The phrase “worst call ever” was bandied about by fans and media pundits alike. It was only after the fact that fans – and media – learned that there was a
double-secret probation rule that in effect prevents the leader from defending his position by using whatever racing line he or she sees fit.
Now as long as I’ve been watching racing – over 30 years – it has always been accepted that the leader has the prerogative to defend his position. This doesn’t necessarily mean blocking a competitor by changing lines to impede a pass (although some series seem to condone this), but to merely take a line that a competitor would likely use to execute a pass (usually this means taking a more shallow, inside line going into a turn). In fact, I’m pretty sure that this method of lead defense was something I was taught when I took the Skip Barber Three-Day Competition Course in 1987.
So it came as quite a shock to find out that the Indycar series has a rule that runs completely counter-intuitive to what most race fans and drivers have accepted all along. To be specific – the rule states that the leader must take the accepted racing line – thus leaving himself as a sitting duck to have a competitor dive bomb him on the inside going into a turn. We were told that this rule has been around for quite awhile and is designed to promote passing. Well, you could have fooled me, as I don’t recall seeing excessive amounts of passing in the road races in the last couple of years. The times when there has been passing and good competition it has come down to driver talent. When all cars are equal, it is talent that sets them apart on the twistie-turnies. Just look at Justin Wilson – he won a race driving for perennial backmarker Dale Coyne Racing. He nearly won at Toronto driving for Dreyer & Reinbold. In the past we’ve seen drivers from AJ Foyt Racing and Vision Racing look good on road courses (remember Paul Tracy at Edmonton in 2008?)
It is no secret that the Indycar series likes to micromanage the racing, whether it be telling drivers they can’t defend their position,
to installing turn signals on the cars to announcing that the pole sitter at Indy has earned the right to lead the first lap of the race. In my opinion this is to the detriment of the sport. It is the equivalent of referees telling football teams what plays they must run, or umpires telling pitchers whether they should throw a curve ball or a fast ball. It hurts the credibility of the sport.
In the end, the call was technically correct, but that doesn’t mean it was the right call to make. The track is 200 feet wide at the point where the infraction occurred… that means they could race nearly 30 wide going down that straight!!! It is virtually impossible to block without weaving. It cheated the fans, who ended up seeing a race won by a driver who lead NO LAPS! It took a win away from a deserving driver, and it put a serious damper on his championship aspirations. It’s like having your team lose the Superbowl because your defender got called for pass interference because his jersey sleeve barely brushed up against the receiver.
Racing should be decided by the drivers on the track as long as they don’t engage in reckless behavior or intentional blocking, with blocking being defined as moving over to impede the momentum of a competitor. In my opinion, the Indycar series needs to eliminate this ‘no defending’ rule immediately.