SONOMA, Calif. – The decisive moment of Sunday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma could be summed up when a Team Penske crewmember “Took one for the team.”
It ended with several episodes of “Road Rage.”
An incident on pit road during the final pit stop of the race involving prime contenders Will Power of Team Penske and Scott Dixon of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing could have a profound effect on the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
On lap 63 of the 85-lap race, Dixon was the leader and Power was second when the two leaders came down pit road during a caution period for their final stop of the race with Dixon’s pit box immediately behind Power’s.
Dixon’s crew was first to get out of the pits but Team Penske right rear tire changer Travis Law lifted the used tire off the ground and moved slowly around the back of Power’s car as Dixon was leaving the pits. It appeared that Law was impeding Dixon’s exit and when the championship contender clipped the wheel that Law was carrying it knocked the crewmember into several other members of the team.
Per IndyCar rules any time a crewmember or equipment is hit on pit road it’s a penalty but this looked like an unusual incident because of the lack of urgency Law showed as he completed his task. IndyCar Race Control reviewed the situation before assessing a “Drive Through” penalty on Dixon, the race leader on lap 71.
Dixon, who entered the race just 31 points behind Power’s teammate, Helio Castroneves, dropped from the lead to a 15th-place finish. Castroneves finished seventh so Dixon now trails by 39 points but would have cut the deficit to single digits if he had not been penalized.
To add to the drama, third-place finisher Dario Franchitti contends Power drove him off the course on the final restart of the race on lap 82. The two drivers barely acknowledged each other in victory lane. That incident combined with what happened to Franchitti’s teammate Dixon led Franchitti to charge Team Penske with “unsportsmanlike behavior” in the post-race media conference.
When Penske was asked about that commented, he strongly defended his team.
“I’d love to have Dario here,” Penske said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s off base. Our guys were doing a job, changing the tires, picked the tires up, got hit by a car from behind.
“You start to get personalities into this, what we’re doing running for a championship, it’s ridiculous.”
When Penske left the media conference he muttered loud enough for several media members to hear “Dario’s nothing but a big baby.”
It was just another wild Sunday of road course racing on the IZOD IndyCar Series as several drivers were in each other’s faces after the race on pit lane and other drivers left with hard feelings.
And while Power finally scored his first victory of the season and the 19th IndyCar win of his career to become the 10th different winner in 15 races there are many factors to this race that overshadowed his win, specifically the penalty that was called on Dixon and whether it was his fault of the crewmember for not making an effort to get out of the way.
“Ultimately, we have a duty to protect everybody in the pit lane,” said Beaux Barfield, IndyCar Race Director. “If we have somebody who uses less than great judgment when they leave their pit box and we have an incident, then we have to make a statement by penalizing. And we’re going to make that call. There are a couple of different (video) angles, and clearly the 9 car (Dixon) crosses right into the 12 car’s space and that’s where the violation occurred. He was in the 12 car’s box for a good half-car length.”
Dixon contends he did nothing wrong and that the review of the incident should have cleared him.
“It looks like he (Verizon Team Penske crew member Travis Law) walked straight into our car,” Dixon said. “You could see where the other car in front of us was pitted and he walked towards us, on purpose. That’s probably the most blatant thing I’ve seen in a long time.
“If you watch most pit guys, they try and get out of the way of other people so that was a bit of a Dick move right there. It’s pretty annoying because we had a pretty good Target car all day long and if they want to try and win like that, then that’s pretty bad. I had a straight line heading out of the pits and he just walked right into us. You also look at the calls people make and what they did in Race Control so I look forward to hearing what that was all about.
“The consistency here is horrible.”
Dixon didn’t believe his car was great but with proper tire management he was in position to win the race.