Where the rules are made up and the points don't matter. I personally think Indy Car is the most competitive top tier series in motorsports right now providing some of the greatest racing the series has ever seen. However, despite some great racing this weekend the administration of the race, albeit in difficult circumstances, leaves me wondering if there is any integrity left in this championship.
It rained on Saturday. Perhaps you saw the pace car spin off leaving the broadcasters wondering if Rob Ford was driving. It created a situation I've never seen at a race before. The drivers went out for pace laps and race control red flagged the race without attempting a start. The broadcast team specifically said the cars would return to their pit boxes and work could be carried out under the red flag because the race had not started.
After a short delay the drivers were sent back out on track. During the opening pace laps nothing really happened. However, on this set of pace laps Ryan Briscoe slid off into the tires prompting the team to bring the car in and check the front wing. Without replacing the front wing Briscoe was sent back out at the tail of the field. This makes sense as he didn't stay with the field while they were pacing.
At some point during the pace laps race control decided to scrap the standing start. Indy Cars have had a difficult time with standing starts so this decision isn't necessarily a bad decision. What is confusing is the decision to make it a single file rolling start. Due to driver complaints Indy Car has scrapped double file restarts, but the rolling starts have still been double file. Getting rid of the standing start and double file rolling start doesn't seem to make sense to me.
While the drivers were coming to the line to take the green flag with the single file rolling start championship contender and Verizon sponsored driver Will Power lost control and hit the wall with the left side of his car. The start was aborted and the field circulated under caution for a couple of laps until the race was again red flagged. The race was declared to have not started so the Verizon team continued to work on Power's car. Power's Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya also started to have some electrical issues with the car. Montoya successfully ran all the yellow flag laps but his car required some repair under the red flag as well. The other teams started to become agitated about Power and Montoya's teams working on the car under red flag conditions. Owners started to wonder about the rules, but it seems they all forgot about the fact they were given freedom to work on their cars under the first red flag. I'm not sure the owners still understand the red flag rules. That was clearly evident Sunday during race 1. More on that in a minute.
Once race control decided to start more pace laps they originally said the 3 cars that had been caught out would retake their positions. Then they put them at the back. If it was legal to work on the cars under red flag conditions why was Montoya put in the back? I understand Power and Briscoe did not keep pace with the field during the pace laps, but Montoya had no such issue. Eventually the race was red flagged for the evening and rescheduled for Sunday morning.
When the race was rescheduled it was announced that the grid would be based on the qualifying times set and that the 2, 8, and 12 cars would all regain their grid positions. Sometime somewhere along the way that was changed and those 3 drivers had to start from the back. What changed in the rules from Saturday to Sunday is a mystery.
Race 1 finally got under way Sunday morning and was promptly red flagged due to a track blocking crash that had everyone from 10th place on back parked on track. Joseph Newgarden was involved in the incident and had some minor suspension damage to repair. Dale Coyne quoted the rule book to NBC:SN pit reporter Robin Miller who then went over and told Sarah Fisher that the penalty would be a pit lane start + 20+ second hold when the race resumed. 20 seconds compared to 5 minutes makes a big difference and the team promptly started working on Newgarden's car. The car was repaired before the race went back yellow and Newgarden was able to resume his race. The strange thing is it doesn't appear he ever served a penalty. 10 laps into the race he was still just 20 seconds behind the leader at the tail end of the field. So it seems no penalty was applied or maybe it was, but it didn't seem like much of a penalty at all for working on a race car under red flag conditions after a race had started.
Fast forward to race 2. The race was also affected by rain. A caution came out while Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was committed to pit lane. RHR was issued a penalty for pitting while the pits were closed. This is in the rule book, but it seems to me like a stupid rule. There are some tracks where once you commit to pit lane you can't back out. Later in the race Power was entering the pits as the yellow came out and dove back on track. Had there been another car next to him as he dove back out it could have been a horrific incident. Incidentally I believe the rules were actually applied correctly here, but the rules just don't make sense.
Finally we get to the most confusing part of the race. A red flag with 4 minutes and 32 seconds left in the race. Due to rain and caution periods the race became a timed event rather than a set number of laps. I'm not new to the world of racing, but stopping the clock with a red flag in a timed race is new to me. I believe it was the right call for all the fans that stuck it out through a horrible weekend of weather and red flags, but that doesn't make it any less confusing.
When you're a premier form of motorsports you can't afford to have a weekend of racing like this one. TUSCC has suffered severe backlash for their lack of organized coherent rules, but at least they're trying to apply their rules. It seemed this weekend as if Indy Car just made them up as they went along with significant championship implications along the way.
Lead image from Racer.com author and photographer Marshall Pruett