WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.
Every racing series has its drivers who may be in way “over their head.” When Michael Andretti was a race driver, that driver was “King Hiro” — Japanese driver Hiro Matsushita. In the early days of the Indy Racing League, it was “Dr. Jack” — not Kevorkian, but Dr. Jack Miller — a dentist from Carmel, Ind., who became one more road hazard on the race track, as if the early days of the IRL weren’t hazardous enough.
In the unified era of the IZOD IndyCar Series, the Moving Chicane is Milka Duno. The female driver from Venezuela is armed with plenty of money from CITGO, but continues to get in the way of faster drivers.
She became a target for criticism from Ryan Hunter-Reay in Saturday’s qualifications and by Dario Franchitti in Sunday’s Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen.
Hunter-Reay lost his two fastest laps when he spun in turn eight, which brought out a full-course caution. Hunter-Reay returned to the track and was on what he considered to be his fastest lap, which would have advanced him into the second round before he approached Duno’s much slower car.
Hunter-Reay had to dive-bomb the car and it was enough to keep him from getting into the next round of qualifications.
The Andretti Autosport driver was livid and marched to Duno’s pit area to question the driver.
“She’s a moron,” Hunter-Reay said. “She doesn’t know what she is doing. It’s amazing that we are a professional racing series and we have someone like that in a car. She doesn’t even know who is behind her. She is so immersed in everything that is going on that she has no idea when a car drives up alongside her.
“We were plenty fast enough to make it into the Fast Six. I made a mistake and caused the yellow and as the rules show I lost my fastest two laps. But on the last corner I was faster again and would have made it in by a good chunk.”
Hunter-Reay said he was a half-lap behind Duno at the start of the lap and by the time he made it to turn nine, he had caught her.
“I couldn’t believe the closing rate,” Hunter-Reay said. “She is faster than maybe one or two Indy Lights cars. I don’t get it. When you deal with it week in and week out, and you bite your lip, then it screws up one of your qualifying sessions…every point in qualifying is so valuable.”
Hunter-Reay vowed he was going to speak with Indy Racing League officials about why Duno is allowed to race while being so far off the pace.
“Why let her out for qualifying?” he asked. “If she wants to go out and have fun, run in practice then have her sit out qualifying. She can start at the back of the pack, drive four laps and then go home.”
Duno was 11 seconds slower and 15 miles per hour slower than pole winner Will Power. She has been a source of frustration for many drivers, but her CITGO sponsorship is valuable to the teams that she has competed for.
This year that team is Dale Coyne Racing, which won last year’s race at the Glen with Justin Wilson driving.
“I know Dale and last year he was working hard, put out a good car and I really enjoyed working for him,” Wilson said. “He’s a great guy and has a great bunch of guys working for him. I’m not sure what the right balance there is. We all understand the economic climate. Situations aren’t as ideal as we would like it. It’s not for me to decide who drives the cars and who doesn’t.”
Franchitti is a two-time IndyCar Series champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and knows what it is like to race at the front of the field. He also understands the importance of keeping all teams involved in the series.
“There is a balance,” Franchitti said Saturday. “If that car and sponsor goes away, you see a bunch of guys out of work. Nobody wants to see that.”
After Sunday’s race, however, Franchitti had a different view.
“On the first restart, whatever number the CITGO car (Duno’s No. 18) is, was cruising along in the middle of the pack and people started passing before the restart,” Franchitti said. “Then she pulled in front of Ryan Briscoe and braked in the last corner when four or five cars ahead had already taken off for the green, so she completely screwed our restart. That allowed Raphael Matos to pass.
“That was a little frustrating, but nothing that she does surprises me at this point.”