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