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Punch Drunk at Sonoma

August 31, 2011

Infineon Raceway.

When IndyCar race control penalised Dreyer & Reinbold’s Giorgio Pantano post-race on Sunday evening, the talking point of the day immediately shifted away from the race.

Chief Steward and President of Competition, Brian Barnhart, dropped Pantano from 6th to 17th place after the event for attempting to defend an overtake against Sebastien Bourdais.

That Dreyer & Reinbold team principal, Dennis Reinbold, only discovered the penalty on television twenty minutes after the close of the race made for an even more troubling marker.
Once again, Race Control became the news – and it is a trend that is becoming more and more common place for the beleaguered IndyCar Series.

Indeed, it did not help Barnhart that the race they were overlooking was painfully dull. Sonoma, despite its challenging corners and rolling hills, is simply not suited to the current IndyCar.
The current Dallara’s sluggish mannerisms; awkward nature and high downforce ensure that overtaking at a circuit such as Sonoma or Mid-Ohio is a difficult prospect at the best of times.

As the chequered flag flew, Roger Penske’s lead pilot, Will Power, assumed his fifth victory of the season; adding to his achievement of pole position, fastest lap and most laps led. It was a mesmerising performance from the Australian.
Title rival Dario Franchitti secured 4th spot in his Target Chip Ganassi machine, allowing Power to pull the championship lead down to twenty-six points.

With fellow Penske pilots Helio Castroneves (2nd) and Ryan Briscoe (3rd) rounding out the podium, it would prove to be the best of the days for the Captain. The result ensured it was the first Penske 1-2-3 since the CART Grand Prix of Nazareth Speedway in 1994.
A 5th place finish for Ganassi’s Scott Dixon just about keeps the Kiwi in shouting distance of Power in the points tally.

Where the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma really went wrong was in the scoring of 6th downward.
Following a late race caution – thanks to the crashing Ho-Pin Tung (Dragon Racing) – Dale Coyne road-course racer Bourdais attempted a move on Pantano through the final turn on lap 68; a move expertly halted by the determined Italian.
For Pantano, this was more than defending a position; this was about breathing life into an ailing career. Several unfortunate deals and poor decisions had left the 32-year-old’s racing life hanging on by a thread.

Forays into Superleague in 2009 and a partial Auto GP schedule last year kept Pantano’s name slightly afloat, but this season presented him with nothing until Justin Wilson was injured several weeks ago.
Sadly (and I mean sadly), IndyCar hosts a regulation where it is illegal for a driver to defend a position on a road or street course – they simply have to let an opponent through regardless.
Pantano, by fighting off Bourdais’ advances, fell foul of this regulation, garnering a penalty that dropped him to the rear of the lead pack behind Andretti-Autosport’s Mike Conway –17th place.

In an interview with Versus TV’s Kevin Lee following the event, Pantano appeared dumbfounded and rightly so.
The “no defence” rule goes against everything that is natural to a racing driver and the promotion of seamless passing, as opposed to hard fought overtaking appears lazy at best. That the rule has justified in the name of “safety” smacks of a lack of understanding of the many disciplines that make up the fabric of a racing driver.

One could very easily argue that the “no defence” rule has led to a dip in the standards of road and street course driving in the last twelve months – as recently witnessed during the Honda Grand Prix of Toronto. Even the follow-up event at Edmonton, while not as littered with Toronto’s hapless carnage, still left an awful lot to be desired.

As it stands, IndyCar has taken numerous hits during 2011 and is slowly beginning to resemble the shadow of a former friend – at one point bright and respected, now punch drunk and lost.
In its midst, the mutterings from those once close, tell of patience that has all, but withered. Where once fans were worried, those who worried the most are now struggling to care.

2011 IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma (Rd 13, Aug 28th, 75 laps)
Pos Driver Team Result/Gap
 1.  Will Power           Penske                        1h47m29.7619s
 2.  Helio Castroneves    Penske                              3.2420s
 3.  Ryan Briscoe         Penske                              6.4494s
 4.  Dario Franchitti     Ganassi                             7.6540s
 5.  Scott Dixon          Ganassi                            14.4755s
 6.  Sebastien Bourdais   Dale Coyne                         17.1257s
 7.  James Hinchcliffe    Newman/Haas                        17.2713s
 8.  Graham Rahal         Ganassi                            17.7900s
 9.  Ernesto Viso         KV                                 21.6276s
10.  Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti                           22.1731s
11.  Oriol Servia         Newman/Haas                        22.9512s
12.  Martin Plowman       AFS/Sam Schmidt                    24.2602s
13.  Ana Beatriz          Dreyer & Reinbold                  29.7207s
14.  Sebastian Saavedra   Conquest                           41.1146s
15.  Simon Pagenaud       Dreyer & Reinbold                  41.7526s
16.  Mike Conway          Andretti                           1m.2912s
17.  Giorgio Pantano      Dreyer & Reinbold                1m14.2922s
18.  Takuma Sato          KV                                  + 1 lap
19.  James Jakes          (Dale Coyne)                        + 1 lap
20.  Alex Tagliani        Sam Schmidt                         + 1 lap
21.  Danica Patrick       Andretti                            + 1 lap
22.  Vitor Meira          Foyt                                + 1 lap
23.  JR Hildebrand        Panther                             + 1 lap
24.  Marco Andretti       Andretti                            + 1 lap
25.  Ed Carpenter         Sarah Fisher                        + 1 lap
Retirements
     Charlie Kimball      Ganassi                             66 laps
     Ho-Pin Tung          Sam Schmidt / Dragon                63 laps
     Tony Kanaan          KV                                  38 laps

2012 IZOD IndyCar Series (Rd 13)
Pos Driver Points
 1. Dario Franchitti     475
 2. Will Power           449
 3. Scott Dixon          400
 4. Oriol Servia         327
 5. Ryan Briscoe         312
 6. Tony Kanaan          305
 7. Marco Andretti       282
 8. Ryan Hunter-Reay     281
 9. Helio Castroneves    277
10. Graham Rahal         264
11. Takuma Sato          250
12. Danica Patrick       247
2 Comments
  1. Blimey that’s a harsh penalty, mind you, I can see F1 going the same way with DRS. Indycar certainly seems to have lost the plot in recent weeks, unless they want an exodus of teams or drivers they’d best do some thinking about who to have in race control.

    • Leigh O'Gorman permalink

      It’s not just a case of Barnhart – the rulebook itself is so horribly written, it truly beggars belief.

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