It’s always been my opinion that the chief steward, be it USAC/CART/IRL/Champ Car/IndyCar, needs to be a former driver with thick skin who can be fair and consistent but not worry about winning or losing friends.
In case you hadn’t noticed, that’s a mighty tall order with a real short list of candidates.
Wally Dallenbach was the best Indy car racing has ever had during his CART tenure from 1980-2004 and since The Split in 1996 I truly came to appreciate how hard it is to be as solid as he was. For my money, Beaux Barfield did the best job since WD but he left IndyCar for sports cars at the end of 2014 because he didn’t like ruling by committee.
And that brings us to today’s sermon.
IndyCar’s current lineup in Race Control is usually comprised of one former driver (Johnny Unser), a former mechanic (Brian Barnhart), a former team manager (Vince Kremer) and a lawyer (Matt Breeden) at any given time.
Competition director Derrick Walker introduced the committee system last year and while Barnhart runs the driver’s meetings, his vote isn’t any larger than the other two (only three stewards are in place at each race).
Walker, who served as Roger Penske’s team manager for years before becoming a successful car owner in CART/Champ Car and sports cars, oversees Race Control and lends his two cents.
In a perfect world, I imagine Walker would prefer at least a couple ex-drivers to sort out on-track incidents and make judgment calls. Wally Dallenbach Jr., Memo Gidley and Al Unser Jr. all come to mind as good candidates (and Scott Pruett when he retires) but it appears IndyCar opted to go with in-house people.
On the heels of Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, it’s apparent Race Control has got to do a better job of being consistent and also thinking of the paying customers.
After Helio Castroneves spun out Scott Dixon in the first corner of the opening lap he wasn’t penalized and recovered to finish sixth while Dixon’s day was ruined.
Graham Rahal did EXACTLY the same thing to Charlie Kimball at St. Pete and got a drive-through penalty which cost him a sure top 5.
I don’t know what Dixon said to Race Control following the race (and I’m sure we couldn’t print it) but had Castroneves served a drive-through penalty under green like Rahal did there’s no chance he would have scored a top-10 finish.
To be clear, it’s not the three-time Indy winner’s fault he wasn’t penalized but his move wreaked havoc through the field and changed the complexion of the race, so a no-call was ludicrous – especially considering recent history.
Now, IndyCar could fine or dock Helio points on Wednesday but waiting four days to enforce a penalty that should have been automatic is NASCAR stuff. Either make the call on the spot or live with it.
And that’s why one strong voice is usually better than any voting process in a bang-bang racing decision. When Helio jumped the start at Long Beach, it should have been waved off immediately instead of Walker admitting a couple days later a yellow should have been thrown.
I’ve been Walker’s loudest and longest supporter and he truly wants to do what’s best for IndyCar because he cares. Yet IndyCar would be better served with one strong judge who is also the jury.
Officiating is a tough, thankless job, but it requires some common sense and continuity. That’s all the drivers are owed.
STANDING STARTS NOW!
The fans, on the other hand, are owed a chance to watch an exciting, fair, professional start at every race.
Long Beach was the biggest joke in recent memory and begs for a standing start – just like it had without incident in 2013 and 2014.
Indianapolis also needs a standing start for a couple of reasons. As Juan Montoya so eloquently stated, what do you expect when 25 cars going 190mph funnel into a first-gear corner?
Yeah, yeah, the 2014 standing start at IMS created carnage, but most of the standing starts in 2013 and 2014 were OK and the 2007 Champ Car season was all standing starts and went off flawlessly. It’s still exciting and the cars are spaced better and going 30mph slower when they start braking into that tight Turn 1.
And the fans want and deserve them back.
Besides, the ONLY rolling start at the Speedway should be counter-clockwise, once-a-year with 33 cars on the most famous oval in the world.
OH, BY THE WAY
• Tony Kanaan had to slow and go through the grass to avoid hitting his spinning teammate and managed to charge back from 17th to finish seventh. But his NTT Data team was adamant the five or six cars that took the runoff road and beat T.K. back to Turn 3 should have been put behind the 2013 Indy 500 winner on the restart.
• J.R. Hildebrand was doing a helluva job in his first start of 2015 and headed for a top-5 before mechanical ills on his last pit stop dropped him to 21st.
• The Indianapolis Star estimated a crowd of 40,000 but it was half that number – at best.