INDYCAR: Recriminations rage on after Toronto

The action on track on the streets of Toronto during Sunday afternoon was spectacular and fierce enough, but it paled next to the verbal fall-out that followed.

Safe to say that Will Power is not a happy man this morning.

The normally laid-back Australian was incandescent after his hopes of a good race in the Honda Indy Toronto ended with two collisions – one with his main title rival Dario Franchitti that punted him into a spin through turn 3 that all but wrecked his hopes of a win, and the second with Alex Tagliani that put paid to hopes of any sort of finish whatsoever.

It was Dario to whom he directed most of his anger, however.

“I’ve always raced him clean and he always races me dirty,” Power told TV reporters the minute he was out of the car. “He did the same at St. Pete: he drove me into the wall and I didn’t say anything. He did it again today.

“Does anyone ever penalise this guy? He’s as dirty as you like,” he went on. “It was such a dirty move … He’s the guy that mouths off about everyone and whines about everyone, and he’s the guy racing dirty who never gets a penalty from IndyCar. It’s just not right.

“I’m not surprised he didn’t get a penalty, he never gets a penalty,” he vented. “IndyCar won’t penalize them because Chip Ganassi goes up there and gives it to them. It’s just wrong.”

For his part, Chip Ganassi – the car owner of Franchitti’s #10 – denied that he’d known about any penalty, made any protests or taken any action to have one overturned.

Rumour and misinformation about the penalty-that-never-was was the fuel to the fire raging in pit lane. With TV broadcasts and IndyCar’s official Twitter feed both reporting that Franchitti had been handed a stop-go penalty for spinning Power on lap 57, the news that he hadn’t gave the impression that the team had successfully appealed to have it reversed – which would have been all-but unprecedented if it had been the case.

Trouble is, it was based on a misapprehension. There was no penalty and never had been, and the media sources had jumped the gun when they had heard that the stewards (who included driving legend Al Unser Jr and IndyCar official Tony Cotman) were simply reviewing the incident – after which they duly concluded that no penalty was needed for what they deemed a racing incident.

“Between Franchitti and Power, there was never a penalised issue to either driver,” Unser pointed out. “Franchitti was underneath Will, and there was no penalty assessed to him based on what we saw.”

Franchitti had obviously been briefed over the ream radio about the raging controversy as he made his way to victory lane, and was immediately conciliatory: “Obviously, there was contact with Will. If he’s p*ssed off, he’s quite right to be p*ssed off,” he said in typically robust language. “I’ll take more than 50% … But he has to take at least 50% of the blame. He left me a lane and then he came down,” he said, adding: “It was like he opened the door for me to pass and then closed it – too late.

“I braked as late as I could, and he went a little bit deeper but as a result of that he went wide,” he explained. “Will started to crowd me, and unfortunately the wall came out, I couldn’t get further to the right because there was a wall there … I tried to get out of it but I couldn’t.” He added: “I have to say if I was him I’d have been steamed too, but hopefully when he watches the replay he’ll see it was a racing incident.”

It didn’t seem likely. “Hey princess thanks for that nice tap today–appreciate it,” Power posted sarcastically to Franchitti on Twitter in the evening. “I did watch it and could not have raced you any cleaner —- P*SSED!”

Defending his decision to look down the inside of Power into turn 3 in the first place, Franchitti insisted that it’s part and parcel of being a racing driver. “If you’re not going to make any moves at all, you’re going to sit in whatever position you started in. But, yeah, crazy day here in Toronto!”

Despite the diplomacy, the idea that he was a “dirty racer” clearly stung Franchitti. “I believe if you ask anyone in the paddock, they will tell you that is not how I race … I think I’m known in the paddock as not someone who drives dirty, so I’m not really sure what he’s talking about,” he said. “I understand he’s upset, but hopefully when he cools down he’ll reassess that … If he doesn’t, I have no control over what he thinks. I’m going to continue to race the same way I’ve raced since I’ve been in North America.”

For this part, Power shot back: “I don’t know if it will change the way I race him, I’m just disappointed in the guy … If that’s how he wants to win a championship, good on him – he can have it.”

A few laps after his clash with Franchitti, Power was out altogether after being hit through turn 5 while overtaking Alex Tagliani.

“Pretty typical of him, Tagliani’s just a w*nker, he’s always been a w*nker,” said a disgruntled Power once he’d stopped venting at Dario. “We were just trying to get the best result possible before Tag hit me from behind. It’s very tough to have two DNFs in a row. All I can say is we’ll keep working hard and hopefully come back strong at Edmonton.”

“I am sure Will is pretty upset … The contact with Will was also a shame,” said Tagliani in response. “I tried to pass him a couple of times in turn three. He was blocking a bit, and then I made a move on the inside [and] it got tight.”

Tagliani himself ended up out of the race shortly afterwards when contact with Danica Patrick – who was avoiding a spinning James Jakes – sent him into a roll where the car was only prevented from completely overturning by the way it went vertical against the wall and bounced back right-side-up.

“I felt a big knock on the right rear, and we were up in the air,” said the local favourite. “It’s disappointing.”

Danica was already fuming over an early run-in with Takuma Sato who ploughed into the back of her car shortly after she had overtaken him, which wrecked both their afternoons. As she left pit lane, she directed an ironic thumbs-up at Sato who was still getting repairs, and on the radio called him an “idiot … that was a hard hit!”

Tony Kanaan was also fuming after being the victim of the race’s first of eight full course cautions when he was spun in turn 3 by Ryan Briscoe, and he had some unequivocal gestures for the Penske driver when the field circulated past the scene of the accident. “It was so stupid, he had plenty of room, I don’t know what he did,” said Kanaan. “I guess when your team mate is winning a lot and you’re not, you’re feeling the pressure,” referring to Briscoe’s disappointing form compared with that of Will Power in the same hardware.

Then there was Graham Rahal, who looked set to claim an impressive third place late in the race until he was spun out by Ryan Hunter-Reay. “I just got hit,” said Rahal afterwards. “I’m really ticked and I’m trying to control my emotions. That’s not like Hunter-Reay, but I guess some people strap on their helmets and lose their brain.”

“Graham got way out into the marbles there, and then he started coming across, and there was more than enough room for two cars, and I got up in there, I already had my momentum, I was coming to the corner,” said Hunter-Reay in response. “And he just came straight across. He had to know I was there.”

Rahal in turn had been the subject of anger from Hunter-Reay’s team in pit lane when it appeared he together with his Ganassi stable team mates Franchitti and Scott Dixon were “throwing” the double file line-up formation in order to extend the caution period – which was critical to Rahal’s chances of making it full distance on fuel.

“Yeah, it doesn’t make sense,” said team owner Michael Andretti of the aborted restarts that prolonged the cautions. “They’re obviously doing it on purpose so that he gets it on fuel. One time is okay, twice you [should be] in the back … It’s unfair.”

“There was nothing bad going on there,” insisted Franchitti who was trying to line up alongside Rahal for the restart. “He couldn’t run the outside of [turn] 10 in the marbles, so he was taking my lane, and I couldn’t get on the outside of 11, so I couldn’t get alongside him. I tried it once and almost smacked the fence down. We were doing our best, the restarts were tough just because of the marbles on them.”

Chip Ganassi denied any conspiracy and said that he’d had to go over to Rahal’s crew to explain the problem to them, after which the restart proceeded normally.

But relations even seemed strained within the extended Ganassi family, with Dixon not taking too kindly to the upstart Rahal getting in the way of the serious business, calling the young American driver “a pain in the ass” and adding that Rahal “got his just desserts” when Hunter-Reay spun him out.

“I was alongside [Rahal] going down the back straight and then the kink comes and he just comes right across,” said Dixon of an earlier incident that had aggrieved him. “If I didn’t brake, it would have been a massive crash.”

“I am not going to make it easy for people to get by me … I raced them hard, and I raced them clean,” said Rahal of his run at the front with Franchitti and Dixon late in the race. “I’m on Chip Ganassi’s team for a reason, and I want to win races,” he pointed out, adding: “These guys are supposed to be teammates … I find it shocking that they continue to make comments about me.”

And the recriminations just reverberated on and on: there was some Canadian-on-Canadian action between veteran legend Paul Tracy and young rookie James Hinchcliffe who banged wheels midrace in an incident that saw Tracy save a dramatic spin and avert yet another full course caution.

“I am not going to back down if I think it’s my corner,” Hinchcliffe insisted afterwards, showing he was made from the same tough stuff as the hard-headed Tracy. “We all know what Paul is like, but I have to make sure everyone knows I am going to hold my ground. It was a racing incident, but if I were in his position, which I was later in the race, I made it out.”

Later on, Marco Andretti tried an ill-advised lunge down the inside of turn 1 during the penultimate restart and ended up spinning Oriol Servia, which caught up multiple cars including Hinchcliffe and briefly blocked the track entirely: “Marco is an aggressive driver, but he’s always raced me clean,” Servia said. “But today, I think he just had a bad sleep or something.”

Marco did receive a penalty for avoidable contact, as did Tagliani for the hit on Power and Danica Patrick for the accident involving Tagliani and Jakes. Mike Conway was also penalised for steaming into the back of Ryan Briscoe during a midrace restart. “I have to apologize to Ryan for ruining his race; completely a brain fade on my part,” Conway said afterwards.

Which brings us back to the question of why there was no penalty for Dario Franchitti for the accident that gives him – intentionally or not – a vital upper hand in the IndyCar championship battle at a crucial moment, which he now leads by 55pts. Is Power right that IndyCar regards Franchitti as “untouchable” and too big to penalise?

Simmering in the background was a lot of ill feeling left over from Milwaukee, when Dario Franchitti clipped a tyre laid out on the edge of Will Power’s pit box and sent it flying despite a mechanic having a foot on it to keep it in place. With Takuma Sato getting a penalty earlier on for hitting pit lane equipment many pundits had expected Franchitti to get the same, which would have put paid to what proved to be his eventual win.

On the night, IndyCar decided there were mitigating factors and enough “reasonable doubt” to make a penalty inappropriate: Power’s crew had laid out the tyres prematurely and to the very limits of the pit box, seemingly intending to squeeze Franchitti’s entry more than previous pit stops; the Penske team should arguably also have been penalised for the mechanic illegally standing on pit lane equipment in the first place; and at the end of the day no harm was done to either personnel or to Power’s own race. Where these good reasons not to award a penalty – or excuses after the fact?

The Power/Franchitti clash seems to have fallen into the same category of “some blame on both sides” as far as IndyCar is concerned, with Power’s initial move opening a gap sufficient to give Franchitti reason to go for it – and the fact that he then thought better of it and tried to pull out of the overtake would also have been considered.

But it’s likely to leave a lot of people fuming in pit lane, in what’s already been a notably ill-tempered IndyCar season to date. Surprisingly it’s the normally affable Franchitti who has been at the centre of most of it, with his outspoken heated criticism of the way that the blind lottery for the grid of the second Firestone Twin 275k race at Texas Motor Speedway was a “joke”, to angry accusations that Helio Castroneves was up to his “usual blocking crap” at the Milwaukee Mile.

Inevitably the whole idea of double file restarts – which has been a running sore ever since IndyCar insisted on their introduction at the season opener at St Petersburg, Florida – is also in the frame as a prime target.

“The double-file starts were nuts,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was like a free-for all. You had that tight first turn that’s really as slick as glass on a restart, so everybody is sliding through trying not to hit. Then you get through turn two and your rear end steps out. Then you have a long, six-gear straight where everybody gets a draft on each other, then you’ve got to shut it down to first gear [in three.]”

So is this season simply getting very bad tempered and too aggressive? Are the double file restarts to blame? Is the quality of driving in the series just not up to par this season? Or is it just a case that all publicity is good publicity and races like Toronto help IndyCar muscle into the headlines usually dominated by NASCAR (in the US) and F1 (everywhere else)?

“You know, I don’t know why,” admitted Franchitti when asked in post-race interviews at Toronto. “I think maybe one reason – and I’m just spit-balling – is that it’s just so close right now, to get that advantage is so difficult that maybe people are taking bigger risks.”

It would be nice to finish with an optimistic note that at least the next IndyCar outing will be a calmer, saner affair. Unfortunately it’s the second leg of the series’ Canadian mini-series at Edmonton City Center Airport, and the one thing that it’s not particularly known for is calm, peaceful, uneventful racing. In fact, compared to Edmonton, it’s Toronto that can often be relatively quiet …

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