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Ingram: Bad Traffic, Blown Calls And Diffusers

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 11 2011

The grandstands were crowded at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday and so were the parking lots and roads outside the track. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:

If controversy fuels motor racing – and what racing writer is going to argue with that premise? – it was a banner weekend for the sport.

It started early at the first ever Sprint Cup race held by Kentucky Speedway, where some fans never did get in due to traffic problems. They might have been the lucky ones according to fans who had trouble getting out. In the race itself, drivers complained of traffic jams in the low lane due to such a rough surface at a track with historically bad drainage issues. Kyle Busch ran away with it after re-starting in the high groove with the checkers in sight.

Conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, may have noticed track owner Bruton Smith flying a helicopter with the governor of Kentucky over the traffic mess down on the local roads. Although not privy to this conversation, Smith undoubtedly was pointing out why the Speedway needed more public investment in highways around his track. Pardon me, but any fan who attended some of the early IndyCar races at Kentucky Speedway could have foretold of  terriffic traffic problems any time the facility’s grandstands are partially full, much less sold out after new grandstands were added.

In any event, it was a new twist on NASCAR having trouble getting fans into the stands, a relatively delightful controversy.

Despite the rain, there was no problem filling the stands at Silverstone for the British Grand

It was not just the grass which was blue after Kentucky's first Cup race. More than a few fans who did not get into the track also were of that emotional hue. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Prix, which has managed to gradually figure out how to handle what were once abominable traffic problems. Writers and broadcasters did not have any problem filling cyberspace, cable lines and satellite signals with controversy over the FIA’s methodology for enforcing its rules against blown diffusers, either. It seems there were different rules for different manufacturers according to which way the exhaust was being used to fill up the rear diffusers that generate downforce – and how it affected the different engines.

Funny thing, though. Ferrari had nary an unkind word to say about the rule changes and seemingly was perfectly prepared for 2011’s whole new era while rivals Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes had their knickers in knots. The FIA claimed it was merely enforcing rules that were already in the rule book – without elaborating on its tardy wake-up call. To many, it seemed like yet another obvious plot to get Ferrari, previously suffering from the Italia’s lack of pace, back into the winning ways that drive ticket sales and TV ratings for F1, which has been suffering a bit from the dominance of Red Bull.

On the other hand, maybe Ferrari had been following the rulebook all along and merely benefitted from everybody else’s wake-up call. Hold on to that idea of turning on sprinklers at spontaneous times during F1 races to spice up the action with artificial rain. It’s not going to be necessary as the blown diffuser controversy carries on following, ahem, Ferrari’s breakthrough victory at Silverstone by Fernando Alonzo, his first of the season.

How scared is Red Bull of a late-season charge by the Scuderia and Alonzo? Red Bull had driver Mark Webber back off from his passing attempts of second-placed teammate Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps to guarantee the championship leader the runner-up points. (Not that I’m interested in stirring controversy about team orders, but isn’t this only fair since a poor pit stop had cost Vettel the lead and a victory? It wasn’t Vettel’s fault – so why not blame Webber?…)

Speaking of blame, there was plenty being passed around in Toronto during the IndyCar

Driver Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi. Getting all the calls?

race and its aftermath. Will Power said Dario Franchitti “whines about everyone” and then “races everyone dirty.” Race winner Franchitti acknowledged that Power might have reason to be angry, although it’s clear from replays that championship rival Power might have given Franchitti a bit more room. But what really had the pit lane up in arms was the notion, whether based on reality or just rumor, that IndyCar officials were going to penalize Franchitti for the contact with leader Power at Turn 3, then subsequently backed off on its decision.

Not to try to stir the pot unduly, but it seems to me that the dominance of the teams of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi, the respective entrants for Power and Franchitti, has given IndyCar’s pit lane a bad case of CART-itis. In the old days, i.e. when CART ruled the open wheel universe, it was perceived that rules enforcement was constantly at the beck and call of the most powerful team owners, which included Penske and Ganassi.

IndyCar needs to explain its penalty procedures at Toronto and make the procedure more transparent if officials would like to move beyond this controversy. Otherwise, this disputed non-call that radically altered the points standings in favor of Franchitti will be blamed for a lopsided championship, which concludes in  Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, out on the West Coast in the Rolex Sports Car Series, Max Angelelli was

Max the Axe really cut his way through traffic at Leguna Seca. (Photo courtesy of the Rolex Grand-Am Series)

penalized once for a controversial pass of Scott Pruett by using the pit lane at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, then escaped penalty after contact with Ryan Dalziel during the closing laps in the track’s famed Corkscrew. Two weeks ago, Angelelli and Dalziel got into a heated argument after the race at Road America, where Angelelli banged past in the waning moments. “Max the Axe” again had contact in this overtaking maneuver at Laguna – set up by his earlier penalty – and kept on motorin’. Again.

In all cases, call ‘em as you see ‘em. Then order tickets to a motor racing event near you.

Quote of the Week: “Disappointed about Dario, a guy that mouths off about everyone and then whinges about everyone and he’s the guy who races everyone dirty and then never gets a penalty from IndyCar. It’s just not right.” — Will Power on the incident with Dario Franchitti during the Honda Indy Toronto race.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 11 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    Bruton Smith vs. the State of Kentucky…..
    There is a race for 2nd place on who spends a buck first.
    I bet the state builds a highway before Bruton shells out for another toilet at the track.
    The race fans get taxed more and only the France family wins.