From where I was seated I had a pretty exciting view of the madness of Lap 68. As Dario Franchitti raced in front of me towards the Chicane, I saw across the track and into the pits where Marco Andretti’s team was really busting their humps. I saw Marco fire out as Dario was approaching the start finish line, and I saw Marco climb up the left side of the hill between Turns 1 and 2 while Dario closed up on the right.
Then I saw both cars veer right, causing Dario briefly go off the track. I saw them both turn right, and then disappear save for the additional dust kicked up in the aftermath of their get together. Then I heard Mike King of IMS Radio go nuts in my headset.
I gotta say my first reaction was “Oh, Marco!” With his teammate in the championship hunt and ahead of Scott Dixon in both the race and the standings it would seem that Marco should have fallen in right behind Franchitti and followed Dario for the remaining dozen laps. But on the radio broadcast I heard Michael immediately blaming Dario for being impatient and causing the whole mess, so right away I was looking forward to firing up the DVR once I got home.
And after several views and reviews, I’m finally sure I know who’s to blame: everyone.
Marco was coming out on cold tires and was racing for the win. Dario was coming around hot and was racing for the win AND the series title AND the big fat 7-digit bonus check that goes along with that. With regards to team priorities, the Scotsman clearly wins. As nice a run as Marco had up to that point, it’s unconscionable that he couldn’t be thinking about his points-leading teammate, especially given that Dario had just had two really bad weeks and hadn’t bested Dixon in a race in nearly two months. Surely Marco was aware of this, right?
But…take a moment and think about the race from Andretti’s point of view. He qualified last on his team, but had the fastest time in morning practice. He immediately got together trying to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay, damaging his steering. And from there he drove his way right up to the front, not only passing cars but saving fuel as well. (We can now discard the Herta spin conversation – if Marco can save this kind of fuel then he was going to win that race last year regardless.) So after an underwhelming campaign for much of 2007, The Young 3.0 was one solid pit stop from staring a second straight win at Infineon square in the face. If you were him – that is, a bona fide race car driver – wouldn’t you have tried to win the freaking race? Dario was a head of Dixon at that point anyways, so if Marco could manage to best them both then it’s all good for AGR, right?
You would like to think with all the years of experience and all of the recent misfortune that at Lap 68 Franchitti would have been holding on to the precious lead over Dixon like he would a Faberge egg. If he saw Marco – the young daredevil who has also twice flipped this season – accelerating out of the pits ahead of him his first thought shouldn’t have been about trying to pass the kid, but rather about staying ahead of the guy behind him. THAT was the real race, and no matter how much more likely Mr Judd was to pass Marco he would have been better served to focus on the race with the guy behind him instead of the guy in front of him.
But…maybe that’s exactly what Franchitti was doing, as Dixon was right on Dario’s heels and if he lifts in that corner he may find himself quickly in third place. “You lift, you lose” can still apply to certain parts of road courses as well. Plus, as I noted before it sure looked like Marco was staying way left and giving Dario room to pass before Andretti turned to take the low line. For a split second entering Turn 2 Dario must have gone from thinking “Thanks, Marco” to “What the...!?!”
What this get-together showed is that there was not any coordination between teammates, and that’s not just the fault of the individuals involved. As owner of the team Michael needs to get on the headset and tell Marco to let Dario pass him in Turn 2. That can’t be easy for an owner AND a father to do, but if he doesn’t want to execute such a decision then he should consider another line of work. Last year at Chicagoland Chip Ganassi ordered Scott Dixon to fall behind Dan Wheldon since that was the team’s best chance of a championship. That’s not a tactic, that’s being sensible.
But…if Michael is actually giving team orders then it’s a no-win situation. There’s already a perception that with four cars he’s rigging the system, and like last year he would find himself embroiled with a controversy of arguably shady team tactics. Judging from previous incidents at Kansas and Mid Ohio it would seem there are in fact NO team orders other than go out and race to win. If you’re not an Andretti-Green racing fan you would rather have that competition among teammates then watching a team-ordered block party, but if you are an AGR fan then you’re probably just shaking your head. Or screaming. Or throwing things. Or all of the above.
Blame the Indy Racing League
Hey this would never have happened if they hadn’t added all these single-groove road courses. Let’s get some actual passing lanes and let them decide the race in a proper fashion.
But…that ending sure was fun to watch from where I was sitting. Now would be a good time to also Blame ESPN for not showing Dixon and Castroneves battling for the win until the white flag flew. Helio was all over the Iceman like white on rice those final laps, but sadly those at home were treated to the extended block party instead of the actual race. You have my sympathies.
Now of course after this hullabaloo there needed to be some more blame handed out. I’m sure I know WHY Brian Barnhart didn’t have Dario Franchitti black-flagged to have his nose wing fixed after he collided with Marco – he wanted the season championship to be decided on the course. Fair enough, but what if that equipment flapping in the breeze on the #27 had broken off during the restart and caused Dixon to have a cut tire forcing HIM to pit? Would that have been desirable? I’m gonna say “no” there. He needed to tell Dario to pull in no matter how much it hurt.
As a result of this decision (or indecision) we can also talk until we’re blue in the face about Kanaan’s blocking maneuvers. Tony committed similar tactics earlier in the race, but they certainly got more pronounced after Dario was driving with a wounded car. The telecast didn’t really do it justice from the camera angles, but Kanaan was doing two things that were very unfair to competition.
Now not passing is not illegal, but both (a) pulling up next to your teammate with not intention of passing when the track is two-wide and also (b) lifting off the throttle to give some separation from the car in front of you when the track is one-wide is flat out wrong. The latter maneuver is often referred to as “brake checking” and it will get you off a fellow driver’s Christmas Card List for obvious reasons. (I’d check to see if it’s definitively illegal, but I still can’t find an IRL rule book online.) Regardless of legality this is supposed to be a race, and if things like this aren’t conducive to racing then somebody needs to get out the freaking black flag.
Speaking of the black flag, I’d like to think that would be the standard penalty for jumping the start. I don’t blame Kanaan for pulling alongside Danica Patrick since Dario TOTALLY cut her off in the last turn before the start and Tony had that lane all to himself, but come on Tony – you can’t just breeze past your teammate before the green flag flies. If the top 3 qualifiers are all on the same team then you’d presume they could decide among themselves how they’re going to start the race.
Team Orders? Pffft. Such rational communication would only dull the most intriguing team in the IndyCar series. While the four AGR drivers are trying to win races, they’re also performing a weekly episode of “Real World: IndyCar Series” for the rest of us. I’m sure it’s become Scott Dixon’s favorite show this summer.
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