Championship, Rulebook On Line In Vegas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2011

Will Power during practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday. He needs to make up some ground on Dario Franchitti this weekend and do it within the rules. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Rival IZOD IndyCar Series team principals Mike Hull and Tim Cindric will spend Sunday afternoon trying to outwit one another as Dario Franchitti and Will Power decide the 2011 driver’s championship during the Las Vegas Indy 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hull, managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, hopes to guide Franchitti to his record fourth IndyCar Series driver’s championship and third in a row. Cindric, president of Penske Racing, also is the strategist for Power as he attempts to win his first series title.

Franchitti has an 18-point lead over Power heading into this afternoon’s 200-lapper around the 1.5-mile LVMS quadoval, where 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology- Lotus will start on-pole.

Once the inaugural IZOD INDYCAR World Championships presented by Honda are in the books, however, Hull and Cindric are confident that Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, will make good on his observation that the series’ rulebook needs a front-to-back “scrubbing.”

“From our perspective, I think it’s more than just the rulebook,” Cindric said during a recent teleconference with Hull. “The rulebook is all a matter of guidance, but at the end of the day, the sanctioning body has control over how the events are run. And I think what you’ve seen

Team Penske's Tim Cindric.

in terms of the discussions this year has really, in our minds anyway, come down to asking for consistency in terms of how the rules are actually officiated.

“There’s some philosophies about the one that comes up the most is really whether or not drivers should be allowed to impede the progress of the car behind them, and if they can or if they can’t, what are the guidelines for that. And I think all the drivers are asking for is clear direction, and they’re looking for something that they understand, and they’re looking for someone to enforce that or the sanctioning body to enforce that in a consistent manner. I think that’s all a matter of opinion as to whether that’s occurring or not occurring, and it’s a difficult job for any one person to do.”

Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR’s president, competition and racing operations, has been openly criticized by Team Penske’s Power and Helio Castroneves, among others, for in-race decisions made as chief steward.

“Some series look at it as more of a committee and a spokesperson,” Cindric said, “and I think the process needs to be looked at as much really as the rulebook or the individual people. It comes down to ensuring good decisions are made because there’s no rulebook that defines whether you restart a race or whether you don’t restart a race, or at what point is the track ready to race on or what the conditions are.

“That’s not the rulebook. The rulebook really has to be, again, consistently interpreted by the sanctioning body, and I think what there have been more discussions in this year (are) of some of the inconsistencies that exist.”

Hull said consistent interpretation of the rules is a standard he and team-owner Chip

Mike Hull of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ganassi share with Cindric and the organization founded by Roger Penske.

“It’s not about a sledgehammer vs. a flyswatter and who defines the rule for us in terms of a race director,” Hull said. “It’s more about creating consistency that seems to be fair – fair for everybody involved – and certainly we’re all going to have differences of opinions on Sunday about how we’re affected. The relevant thing is that if in the eyes of the beholder – which are the fans, the team-owners, the drivers, the crew members – if we’re all fairly treated with consistency, that’s all we can ask for and the rulebook is almost secondary to that. It’s almost secondary.

“Yes, the rulebook needs to be cleaned-up in certain areas because – I think I was quoted on this at some point in time before – it’s kind of like Microsoft software, just one thing added on top of another on top of another instead of starting with a code from scratch. Hopefully, something has been made that can straighten that out for us a bit; but consistency is the most important thing.”

Cindric added the rulebook needs to be fan-friendly so that constituency doesn’t lose interest. “As Mike said before, sometimes we’re too close to the sport and need a simpler viewpoint,” said CIndric, who guided Penske Racing to Champ Car World Series titles with Gil de Ferran in 2000-01 and in the IndyCar Series with Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. Penske Racing’s record 15 Indianapolis 500 victories include three by Castroneves, the most recent in 2009.

“You know, I don’t know how to define that exactly,” said Hull, who oversaw Indy 500 wins by Scott Dixon in 2008 and Franchitti’s second in 2010. “What’s happened is that

Dario Franchitti is hoping to add another trophy to the collection today.

unfortunately we’ve been driven into this corner called ‘spec racing,’ where in combination with the engine levels, the power levels are identical from car-to-car; the cars are identical from car-to-car, the tires are like granite now that we race on. Firestone does a great job with the tires, but they’re extremely hard. There’s no grip anymore to pass anybody in a braking area, there’s no grip anymore to pass anybody as you come off a corner.

“As a result of that, the rulebook now is this microscopic thing where Brian and his people in Race Control are trying to define where on the racetrack you can find this imaginary line to pass somebody, which is absolutely ludicrous. It’s ludicrous now.”

Since Hull became manager of TCGR in 1996, he has overseen eight open-wheel titles –four in Champ Car with Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya and four in the IZOD IndyCar Series with Dixon and Franchitti. Hull widely is recognized as an astute judge of cockpit talent.

“A driver that has enormous ability, and we’re waiting to see that ability come forward, can no longer display it,” Hull said. “The cars are…so identical to each other that a driver cannot truly – a guy with ability or a girl with ability can no longer get round somebody that they should be able to get round.

“Somebody leading a race can no longer get around a person that’s running in 25th position cleanly. That’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong. And to draw a line on the racetrack and say, ‘Oh, well, a guy can’t pass over there because he’s committed himself at the first part of the straightaway…’ it is absolutely ridiculous. That’s absolutely ridiculous.

“It doesn’t matter who built that rule or who has to define it; it’s absolutely ridiculous. We’ve got to get back to being able to give drivers what they need to get round each other. That’s probably what we need to create for ourselves.”

Randy Bernard had a little fun with IndyCar Series championship contenders Dario Franchitti and Will Power when “Randy from Indianapolis” posed a question from the audience during the INDYCAR Live & Global event Saturday in Vegas.

“I want to know who is going to win the World Championship?” said Bernard, INDYCAR’s CEO.

“I was going to say everyone needs to show up at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and find out,” Franchitti joked. “I know Will thinks it’s going to be him and I think it’s going to be me. That’s why we’re running this race.”

The Q & A with media and fans from around the world was part live video streaming and interactive event powered by Ortsbo’s Guinness World Record-holding platform, Live & Global. The drivers took questions from as far away as Russia, American Samoa, France, Sweden and Spain among other countries well as from fans and media on-site.

All were instantly translated into English and fielded by the title contenders. For instance, this inquiry for Franchitti: “You’re of Italian descent but grew up in Scotland. How have the cultures shaped who you are?” And “How fast have you driven in a race car?” Incidentally, the answer to the second query is 256 mph in Turn 3 at then-California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Both Power and Franchitti will start deep in the Las Vegas Indy 300 field, sharing Row 9 on the record 34-car grid. Both drivers said they won’t be in a hurry to get to the front, unless that’s what the race presents.

“Obviously, Dario and myself are starting way in the back and next to each other, and the two rookies going for that championship (JR Hildebrand of National Guard Panther Racing and James Hinchcliffe of Newman/Haas Racing) are starting next to each other in front of us,” said Power, painfully recalling last year’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “I think you have to run a smart race altogether.

“Last year, at halfway, my spotter started pushing me saying, ‘Come on. Let’s get up there.’ And I ended up scraping the wall. I don’t think that’s right approach. You have to understand how the car is and just react accordingly.”

In addition to the IndyCar Series and the Firestone Indy Lights championships, two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon is looking to claim the $5 million Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge. Should Wheldon _ who will start from the rear of the 34-car field in a Sam Schmidt Motorsports/Bryan Herta Autosport Dallara/Honda _ take the checkered flag, he will split the $5 million prize with a winning sweepstakes entrant.

ABC will televise the event, including an expanded pre-race show, beginning at 3 p.m. (EDT). The race also will be broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on XM 94.

INDYCAR will pay tribute to the heritage of North American open-wheel racing by presenting the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship Trophy at the INDYCAR Championship Celebration Monday at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Vegas.

The trophy originally was commissioned by Vincent Astor, son of industrialist John Jacob Astor, to be awarded the winner of the Astor Cup Challenge _ a 350-mile race on a 2-mile board track at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y.

“We sought to blend heritage and tradition with our future,” said Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s CEO. “It was very important for us to find a trophy that was a piece of art that drivers would truly be honored to win. At the same time, I think it’s very important for us to solidify the fact that INDYCAR is Indy-car and we have placed every champion from 1909 on that trophy. We are recognizing every sanctioning body that has governed Indy-car racing. It is a trophy that not only reminds us of our past but also links our future.”

The inaugural Astor Challenge Cup race in 1915 featured a purse of $50,000, which duplicated that of the Indianapolis 500. The Stutz team outlasted a field of 20 to finish first in 3 hours, 24 minutes, 42 seconds. Driver Gil Andersen earned the $20,000 winner’s share by averaging 102.6 mph.

The second and final Astor Cup race in 1916 was shortened to 250 miles. Johnny Aitken, driving a Peugeot owned by the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company of Carl Fisher and Jim Allison, won with an average speed of 104.83 mph.

Aitken, of Indianapolis, has the distinction of starting (41) and winning (15) more races at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway than any driver. A.J. Foyt Jr. is second in starts with 36 from 1958-94 and Ray Harroun is second with eight wins from 1909-1911. Aitken also led the first lap of the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911, which was won by Harroun.

All Indy-car national champions from 1909 (George Robertson; American Automobile Association) to the present are laser-etched into the two black granite bases of the sterling silver trophy.

The IndyCar Series championship driver and team-owner both will receive a replica, while the IZOD IndyCar Series World Championship Trophy will be on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 16 2011
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