HAVE AT IT, BOYS AND GIRLS
Romain Grosjean did his best to play a Jedi mind trick on Graham Rahal at the hairpin on Sunday, exclaiming, ‘He hit me!’ after driving into Rahal twice within a span of a few hundred feet.
The first hit was nothing special. If you’ve watched a few races at Barber, you’ve seen that same exact contact take place coming into or at the apex of the hairpin. We aren’t having this discussion if Grosjean’s first contact with Rahal was his last.
The second hit was all on Grosjean, who lost his mind for a moment. Had Grosjean owned up to the second clash, asked his team to apologize to Rahal Letterman Lanigan for the incident or made a beeline for Rahal after the race to clear the air, no shots are fired. But from what I’ve heard from a few drivers before and after Barber — and I do mean a few, not a lot — an apologetic move would be out of character for Grosjean.
Some drivers are like that — champions and tailenders alike — and based on Rahal’s spicy statements after the race, it came across to me like he was speaking less about Barber and more on his belief that Grosjean is failing to conform to the accepted level of aggression the other veterans usually maintain.
Grosjean has used his car to knock drivers around on a few occasions this year, and to be clear, this isn’t something he brings to IndyCar from Formula 1. This is new for him. F1 cars aren’t strong enough to deliver the kind of contact that a Dallara DW12 can withstand, so this is finding and exploiting a new tactic that’s unique to IndyCar. But just as IndyCar drivers have known since the DW12 debuted in 2012, if they want to move each other around like they’re in a short-track NASCAR race, they can.
The issue raised here is only 25 of the 26 full-time drivers seem to be in agreement that over-driving and roughhousing isn’t the accepted way in IndyCar.
Grosjean isn’t a bad driver or bad person for trying to use the strength of the DW12 to his benefit, but if that’s the way he wants to play, others can join in the same game and ruin his races in kind. It’s a slippery slope, and based on its non-call, IndyCar appears to welcome such contact. Crazy to think, but here we are in 2022 and IndyCar has just blessed its version of NASCAR’s “Have at it, boys (and girls).”
The big change atop the standings leaving Barber involves Alex Palou, who jumped from P3 to P1 (144 points) in the championship. He swapped places with former championship leader Josef Newgarden (135), and between them, Scott McLaughlin held onto second (141). Their teammate Will Power also stayed in place in P4 (134), and in fifth, Barber winner Pato O’Ward made up the most ground in charging from P9 to P5 (114).
He displaced Scott Dixon who now holds P6 (113) and despite a great finish, Rinus VeeKay did not improve from the P7 he held after Long Beach (106). Elsewhere, Romain Grosjean lost two positions despite finishing P7 on Sunday, dropping from P6 to P8 (101) while an indifferent result of P10 at Barber did nothing positive or negative for Colton Herta who remains P11 in the championship (79). Alex Rossi continued to make progress in overcoming a hard start to the season by improving from P18 to P13 (62).
GOTTA KEEP YOUR HEAD UP
They don’t get much rougher than what Barber had to offer the three-car A.J. Foyt Racing team. Slow from the get-go, the program was in an immediate fight to find speed as the trio of Kyle Kirkwood (P22), Dalton Kellett (P23) and Tatiana Calderon (P26) went on to have a weekend to forget.
Calderon beat up her No. 11 Chevy with a crash in the opening laps of Saturday’s final session, but the Foyt team got the car repaired with plenty of time for Sunday’s race. Kellett never factored and Kirkwood, who tends to produce the most excitement, improved from P21 to P17 by the time he was called in for his first stop on lap 12. It’s here Kirkwood’s hopes were dashed.
Scott McLaughlin’s Team Penske crew were the fastest among all teams at Barber with a combined 59.0054s (measured from pit-in to pit-out) for the New Zealander’s two stops. Kirkwood’s first stop lasted nearly as long at 58.3858s as a serious problem affixing the right-front wheel nut added 30 seconds to the pit lane visit. By the time he was sent away, the Floridian was a lap down and came home with an unrewarding finish.
The off weekend was a rarity for the Foyt outfit so far in 2022, and if there’s a positive to be found, it’s that we’ve come to expect at least one car — usually Kirkwood’s — to feature at some point.
• Did the Barber podium give us a glimpse of AMSP’s 2023 line-up? We know Pato O’Ward is staying put for a few more years, and Alex Palou isn’t departing Chip Ganassi Racing anytime soon, but the third member of the rostrum, Rinus VeeKay, is one of the hot properties on the free agent market. He’s also known to be on AMSP’s radar for possible acquisition. The thought of O’Ward and VeeKay as a combo in 2023 — young, but well-seasoned and race-winning drivers — with a Felix Rosenqvist or Alexander Rossi as the final member of the trio sounds like some serious fireworks to deploy on the field.
• Speaking of Rosenqvist, his race went sideways once again, this time after running in the top six with O’Ward before the call to save tons of fuel was sent. His post-race comments spoke to the odd scenario where he and his race-winning teammate were running close together but somehow found themselves on different strategies:
“That wasn’t a good one, not at all,” he said. “We’re analyzing what happened right now, and it’s probably going to be a few days before we know for sure. It’s clear that something is wrong, and it can be a small number of things, but we should not need to save this much more fuel than everyone else. It’s obviously disappointing to lose out on a potentially strong result, but the main thing now is understanding what went wrong today, and I know the guys are looking hard at it as we speak.”
• Great to see Devlin DeFrancesco hit the rest button and get through an incident-free weekend. Same for David Malukas.
• Strange stat: Among the six rookies, only Kirkwood — on one occasion — has earned a top-10 finish and that was a P10 at Long Beach. Across the first four races, we’ve seen flashes of promise, but when it comes to race results, this group has yet to make much of an impact.
• It was great to see the Andretti pit crews up at the team’s hospitality tent on Saturday night, having a few beers and blowing off steam after a long day that included an all-hands-on-deck repair of Rossi’s car. It’s the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood — formed after hours and in the trenches — that allow for such exemplary work to take place.
• Sticking with Rossi for a moment, let’s hope the folks at Barber take note of his crash and extend the tire barriers exiting the final corner.
• We had some excellent Road to Indy racing at Barber with Linus Lundqvist holding on to get his first win of the season in Indy Lights, and in Indy Pro 2000, Reece Gold and Nolan Siegel took wins while Myles Rowe and Jagger Jones were victorious in USF2000.
• IndyCar gave its new EM Marshaling light system a test run during the Indy Lights portion of the event. Look for it to make another appearance at the GMR Grand Prix.