Bush-League Bullshit, Part II.

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today. In the continuing saga of IndyCar’s struggle for credibility - a battle they seem to be ill-equipped for - the open-wheel series weighed-in with their ruling on the Helio Castroneves/Edmonton fiasco with the following: They have fined Helio Castroneves $60,000 and placed him on probation for the remainder of the season for his actions during the July 25 race at Edmonton City Centre Airport. According to IndyCar, “Castroneves was penalized for refusing to follow the direction of officials as well as portraying unsportsmanlike conduct when he engaged in physical contact with two officials on pit lane after the conclusion of the race.”  IZOD IndyCar Series officials met with Castroneves at their headquarters in Indianapolis on Monday.

I fully support the decisions of chief steward Brian Barnhart and Race Control,” said Randy Bernard, chief executive officer, IZOD IndyCar Series.  “The drivers have been aware of the blocking rule for quite some time. Brian reminded the drivers of the blocking rule in the Edmonton pre-race drivers’ meeting, which serves as the first warning, and the rule was executed during the race just as it dictates.”

As is the case, there’s always more:
“This rule is unique to IndyCar racing,” said Barnhart. “It was put in place to protect our competitors, officials and fans, prevent unnecessary damage to these cars and allow for more passing opportunities. Bad things happen when these cars touch and there have been serious incidents with major consequences on temporary circuits throughout Indy car history. With the new wheel interlocking prevention technology that is coming in our 2012 car, we will be re-evaluating this rule in the future.”

That’s all well and good, and it sounds just swell in the press release except for the fact that it never happened. As I said last week - when Castroneves was leading the race at Edmonton with three laps to go and was issued a black flag for blocking Team Penske teammate Will Power following a restart - Helio made one move, then set-up for his entry into Turn 1. Hell, I bet if any of you armchair aces out there were leading the race on a re-start with three laps to go, I would have to believe that you would make damn sure that you weren’t going to get passed going into Turn 1. Remember what Coach Herm Edwards said: You Play To Win The Game. And Helio was well within his right to do what he had to do to keep Power behind him, and he went wide to make Power work for it. Too bad for Power, but that, as they say, is racin’.

So now Castroneves has been fined for the phantom maneuver and the fact that he failed to take the drive through pit lane penalty that was assessed on the spot. As I said before, a Bush-League Bullshit call. But even worse, IndyCar patted themselves on the back for not suspending Castroneves, if you can believe that. Here’s what Randy Bernard added: “This sport is so close and competitive that emotions are always on display,” Bernard said. “However, that does not justify the post-race conduct of Helio toward series officials. This is a very serious matter and we weighed all options, including suspension. But we felt suspension would hurt the fans more than anyone else. Fans have paid their hard-earned money to watch the best drivers in the world and many bought their tickets for upcoming events with the expectation of watching Helio. He is a great ambassador for this sport and we know his actions after the race in Edmonton are not indicative of his normal behavior.”

Oh, now IndyCar is worried about the fans? Please. These boneheaded actions taken by IndyCar - the open-wheel racing series that is absolutely desperate for any kind of positive publicity it can generate after blowing its new rules package to smithereens when it went all conservative - and going begging for a manufacturer - any manufacturer - to join the series as an engine supplier, proceeds to demonstrate an utter cluelessness when it comes to actually managing their races. Why would a global automobile manufacturer eager to demonstrate its technical capability and innovative thinking want to sign up for that?

In other words, a giant heaping, steaming bowl of Not Good.

And what kind of message does it send to the “fans” when Helio Castroneves - the only star driver other than Danica Patrick in the series to have honest-to-goodness name recognition beyond the typical motorsports media coverage - is robbed of a race win by a flat-out incompetent judgment call? I’ll tell you what kind of message it sends. It says that IndyCar, beyond the one event that matters nationally and globally - the Indianapolis 500 - is toast. Rudderless, unimaginative, unwilling to take risks and flailing about trying to prove to anyone who will listen that it’s a big time racing series, when every sign imaginable - the dismal, nonexistent television ratings, the ho-hum, predictable, spec-laden cars and the serial avoidance of embracing a vision for the future - indicates that it’s a series that’s hanging by a thread held together by a few elite teams and sponsors. One that could go away at any moment.

I believe the Indianapolis 500 will survive somehow, maybe even becoming an “Invitational” (totally detached from the remnants of what’s left of IndyCar) based around innovation and future technology, but at this very point in time - and with the management of IndyCar seemingly incapable of grasping the drastic measures that the sport needs to survive, let alone thrive - major league open-wheel racing in this country remains in great peril.

Bush-League Bullshit, indeed.

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