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Castroneves Heads To Brazil Under Microscope

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 28 2011

INDYCAR officials will be keeping an eye on Helio Castroneves this weekend when he races in Brazil. Castroneves was involved in a couple of incidents at Long Beach in the last race. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Helio Castroneves will be on double-secret probation this weekend, when the IZOD IndyCar Series  travels to his native Brazil for the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300.

Castroneves’ No. 3 Dallara/Honda was involved in two separate incidents within five laps of each other during the series’ most recent event, the 37th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17. The first incident involved the No. 22 car driven by Justin Wilson of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

The other occurred on a Lap 66 restart in which Castroneves had difficulty braking entering Turn 1 and created a logjam by impeding the progress of Team Penske teammate Will Power and Oriol Servia. Scott Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry also sustained rear suspension damage when it ran over Castroneves’ front wing.

“As far as the restart, I’m really not sure what to say,” said Castroneves, who finished 12th and fell to 12th in the point standings after three events. “I feel terrible for Will. I wasn’t even trying to pass, but we just made contact. Will is my teammate, and of course, you just can’t take each other out. It’s just very unfortunate and I have to say I’m sorry to the team.”

Upon review, Castroneves did not receive a penalty for either incident. “Certainly, that was not something I intended,” said Castroneves, who started and finished ninth in the

Roger Penske driver Helio Castroneves had better keep it clean this weekend.

inaugural Streets of Sao Paulo event in March 2010. “I wish I could go back in time and not be so stupid like that, make a mistake so horrendous.”

That said, INDYCAR officials will be monitoring Castroneves during his “home” race Sunday on another temporary street circuit. The 75-lapper over a 2.6-mile layout will be televised live at noon (ET) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network.

“(Castroneves) has our attention because he has made poor choices in two of the three events,” said Al Unser Jr., Firestone Indy Lights driver coach and one of four officials monitoring on-track activity in Race Control. Sixteen camera angles plus in-car camera video are monitored by Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations ; Tony Cotman, Firestone Indy Lights chief steward; Bill van de Sandt, INDYCAR director of operations and Star Mazda chief steward and former driver Unser .

The distinction between “avoidable contact” and “racing incidents” became a hot-button topic at Long Beach. Open-wheel veteran Paul Tracy, making his 2011 series season debut with Dragon Racing, was sent to the back of the line as a penalty for avoidable contact during a Lap 25 incident in Turn 11 that involved the No. 78 car of Simona de Silvestro of HVM Racing.

The race was won by Andretti Autosport’s Mike Conway, who scored his first series win less than a year after suffering season-ending injuries in a spectacular crash during the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Whenever driver contact issues arise _ and those incidents are on the rise as a result of the series’ new double-file restart rule _ officials confer over video replays.

“Helio made a poor choice going into Turn 1 and took out his teammate in the process,

Al Unser Jr. is policing, not driving, for INDYCAR.

but he did not improve his position,” Unser said. “As a matter of fact, if we were to have him do a stop-and-go or put him back at the end of the line – like we did with Ryan Hunter-Reay at Birmingham (Ala.) a week earlier – he would be in the same spot that he ended up because his engine died and he went to the back of the line anyway. He basically served his own penalty. With Paul Tracy and Ryan Hunter-Reay, they both improved their position by taking somebody out.”

In the season’s second race at Barber Motorsports Park, Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport car bounced off the Turn 8 curbing and veered into the car he was attempting to overtake, driven by Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, on Lap 58 of 90.

“We moved him (Hunter-Reay) to the back of the pack for avoidable contact,” Unser said. “We did the same thing with Paul. He was being too aggressive going into Turn 11 trying to make a pass. He overshot the person he was passing and took Simona out.

“We look at what caused the accident. There were definitely two causes for the two individuals that got spun out. Helio was not being too aggressive, he was not trying to make a pass, he was following. It was too much on the fence whether it was a racing accident, a racing incident or did in fact Helio do it on purpose. It was too close of a call. Tony Cotman and I made the call after Brian asked us to review the incident.

“We have to be careful about what avoidable contact is and what a racing incident is because when you really get down to it they’re racing out there. For sure, Paul Tracy and Ryan Hunter-Reay were aggressive driving, trying to make a pass and didn’t get it done. They were blatant. There’s the avoidable contact. Helio’s was not.”

Unser, a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, likened the role of the four officials to that of an NBA referee. “If we were to make a call of avoidable contact every time they

MIke Conway got his first IndyCar victory two weeks ago in Long Beach.

touch wheels, we’d be penalizing everybody,” Unser said. “You don’t want to take away the thrill and the drama and the competitiveness of racing. We have been consistent on all of our calls this year and we will continue to be consistent on our calls in the future.”

To illustrate his point, Unser recalled punting Mario Andretti during the 1989 Long Beach Grand Prix en route to the second of his event-record six victories. “It was a total accident and I didn’t mean to do it, but the end result was that Mario – a three-time winner of the event – was up against the fence and I went and won the race,” Unser said. “If we would have these rules implemented at that time, I definitely would have been called for avoidable contact.

“There wasn’t avoidable contact in those days because we had different cars, different tires and different engines from the year before and from our competitors. This is one of the things that’s a double-edge sword when you have your competitors so close together as it is now. These rules have to be implemented and enforced now because the competition is so close. Everybody has the same equipment, and they’ve had the car now for nine years.

“I think it’s a great thing that the competition is so close, but the other side of the sword is you really have to watch their driving. That’s why we have the avoidable contact rule and the rule of defending or blocking a corner to keep your competitor behind you _ like Helio did at Edmonton last year and was penalized. These rules are in place to allow for passing.”

Legendary Indianapolis 500 champions Mario Andretti, Arie Luyendyk, Bobby Rahal, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Unser each will each drive a winning car from “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval during pre-race ceremonies at the 100th Anniversary Indy 500 on Sunday, May 29. The participants, with the years of their victories and the cars they will drive on race morning:

Mario Andretti (1969): The Boyle Maserati that won in 1939 and 1940 with Wilbur

Mario Andretti will drive at Indy.

Shaw.

Arie Luyendyk (1990, 1997): The No. 30 Domino’s Pizza Lola/Chevrolet Indy in which Luyendyk won in 1990. Luyendyk averaged 185.981 mph, which stands as the race record.

Bobby Rahal (1986): The No. 14 Miller that won in 1928 with Louis Meyer.

Johnny Rutherford (1974, 1976, 1980): The No. 4 Pennzoil Chaparral/Cosworth in which Rutherford won in 1980 for fellow-Texan Jim Hall. The car is affectionately nicknamed “The Yellow Submarine.”

Al Unser (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987): The No. 82 Lotus/Powered by Ford that won in 1965 with Scotsman Jim Clark. It is the first rear-engine car to win the 500.

Al Unser Jr. (1992, 1994): The Blue Crown Spark Plug Diedt/Offy that won in 1947 and 1948 with Mauri Rose.

Bobby Unser (1968, 1975, 1981): The No. 8 National that won in 1912 with Joe Dawson. The car features a second seat for a riding mechanic, which will be filled by Unser’s wife, Lisa, on Race Day.

“I think it’s a great honor to be able run Jimmy Clark’s car,” said Al Unser, who finished ninth as an Indy 500 rookie in 1965. “We were teammates in 1966, so to be able to go back and drive one of his cars that he won with I think is absolutely a great thing.”

Tickets for the 100th Indy 500 – “The Most Important Race in History” –  are on sale. May 29 Race Day ticket prices start at $30. Fans can buy tickets online at www.imstix.com, by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area, or by visiting the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.

Children 12-and-under will be receive free general admission to any IMS event in 2011 when accompanied by an adult general admission ticket holder. Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 28 2011
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