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Harris: Drivers Find Their Voices

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 18 2010

Danica Patrick and Dario Franchitti have committed to the newly formed drivers' association in the IZOD IndyCar Series. (IZOD IndyCar Series file photo by Chris Jones)

It’s the drivers who put their lives on the line, and some IZOD IndyCar Series drivers have been thinking they should have a say in how things are done.

After a lot of talk since the beginning of the 2010 season, and a meeting two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to formalize things, the IndyCar drivers, led by two-time series champion Dario Franchitti, former series champion Tony Kanaan and veteran racer Justin Wilson, have formed a new drivers’ association.

The unnamed group, formed along the lines of the Championship Drivers Association in the now-defunct CART series, as well as the Formula 1 Drivers’ Association, is intended to give the American open-wheel drivers a voice in how the rules are written and enforced.

The drivers hope to work closely with Brian Barnhart, the Indy Racing League’s president of competition and racing operations and the man who oversees the competition, rules and safety.

“A lot of us sit and talk, but to get everybody in a room together was the main focus,” reigning series champ Franchitti said after the announcement. “I have a very good relationship with Brian and I go to him with all kinds of things.

“In Brazil this year, I went to him and said, ‘Brian, this straight is dangerous. We’ll have a big accident.’ And he straightaway reacted to it, and there’s been a lot of different situations I’ve been able to go to him.

“I just think this will improve the lines of communication with all the drivers instead of just a couple talking to Brian. We’ll get the opinions of everybody about safety, the things we see at the tracks that others don’t. It’s been a long time coming.”

Franchitti, Kanaan and Wilson will act as spokesmen for the drivers’ association, taking ideas and criticism to Barnhart, who welcomed the input..

“I think it’s a fabulous development,” Barnhart told IndyCar.com. “I’ve always tried to have an open relationship and be accessible to any of the drivers for any issues they raise. It is their livelihood and anything that can be done to present it in a more organized fashion I fully support.

“If we have a unified voice coming to speak to us about any concerns in terms of competition, the facilities, safety or anything like that is welcome. I’ve always looked at Dario as a kind of spokesperson. He does a tremendous job of looking at things from a big-picture perspective. He doesn’t have an individual agenda. He is very conscientious of the effects on everyone in terms of competition, especially in terms of safety.”

The formation of the drivers’ association comes in the wake of a controversial call by Barnhart against three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves at Edmonton, where the Brazilian was penalized for blocking Team Penske teammate Will Power to keep the lead late in the race. Scott Dixon, who had led only one lap earlier in the race, managed to pass Power on the final lap and was awarded the win, even though Castroneves crossed the finish line first.

A postrace outburst by Castroneves cost him a $60,000 fine and placed him on probation for the rest of the season.

Also in the aftermath of the incident, Barnhart was criticized for invoking a rule that keeps drivers from trying to hold off a competitor making a pass in certain situations.

While not addressing the Castroneves situation directly, Kanaan told IndyStar.com the goal would be, “… to work with the league, not against it.”

“The IRL needs to make the rules and we need to follow them,” he said. “That’s why rules are rules.”

Another driver who has voiced approval of the drivers’ association is Danica Patrick, who said the group will give the drivers a stronger voice on safety, competition and other issues.

“We got together as drivers and think it’s a good idea to have a voice and be more professional and unified on what we want,” Patrick said last week at Michigan International Speedway, where she was preparing to run in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Attempts for form a drivers’ group in NASCAR have been put down harshly by the ruling France family and Patrick was not about to get in the middle of that controversy.

“I definitely don’t have enough experience over here to know whether you need one or not,” Patrick said. “I definitely don’t want to say anything about this side of things until I have much more time under my belt.’’

Whether NASCAR drivers eventually follow suit or not, giving drivers a voice in what happens on the racetrack is the right thing to do. Nobody is more aware of safety issues and how the rules affect the racing than the competitors.

The IndyCar drivers’ association is a step in the right direction.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 18 2010
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