It’s time for IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard to put the drivers in his series and the fans who follow it out of their misery.
After inconsistent calls by race control marred the IndyCar events in Toronto and Edmonton last month, the debacle that was Sunday’s MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 should be the final straw that convinces the series to rid itself of its president of competition and racing operations, Brian Barnhart.
With rain falling late in the IndyCar Series event on the 1.025-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Barnhart decided to restart the race in dangerous conditions. Andretti driver Danica Patrick spun as the cars accelerated to take the green flag, causing a chain reaction accident that wrecked five cars.
“I was begging them, begging them, please do not go green,” said Penske’s Will Power, whose car was involved in the carnage.
“To me it was disgraceful. It was a decision which put a lot of guys in danger. I just can't believe the decision — what are they doing up there? They cannot have this guy [Barnhart]running the show, he makes such bad calls all the time. Shame on him.”
Power punctuated his displeasure with IndyCar officials by giving them a double-barrelled, one-finger salute as he exited the pitlane.
While Power later apologized for his rude gesture, Barnhart’s explanation of the situation that led to the terrible decision seemed to justify the Penske driver’s ire.
“[The drivers]are talking back to their team managers or their strategist back in the pits and they would have to relay that to the pit tech and pit tech would have to relay it up to race control — that’s the process that never got to us,” Barnhart explained.
“We never had a single pit tech call and say the driver of car 'X' doesn't think we should go.”
Barnhart went ahead with the decision to go green without any input from the people doing the actual racing, except for some spotters who did tell race control the conditions were too wet. That’s also the reason why Barnhart needs to go.
It is his responsibility to make sure the process that is in place works and does not end up putting drivers in a perilous situation. Sunday’s carnage made it clear that the current system simply doesn’t work. While everyone escaped unscathed, the bottom line is that things could have ended in tragedy.
In a post-race press conference, Barnhart admitted his decision ended up “jeopardizing drivers, tearing up equipment and trying to shove a square peg in a round hole and doing something that you shouldn't have done, and that’s restart on an oval in unsafe conditions.”
Ironically, Barnhart also outlined the reason Bernard must act swiftly to replace the top man in race control.
“No matter what, our No. 1 priority in every decision we make is safety,” Barnhart said.
“And when you’re responsible for the safety of those 26 drivers out there, every time you go and give them a track condition, they’re counting on you to make the right decision.”
To make matters worse, Barnhart called an end to the action and robbed the fans of a race to the wire not because it was too dangerous — the rain had stopped and the track dry enough to continue when the red flag waved; instead, the decision came because it was the only way to fix the mess Barnhart created by his original call.
The final result whitewashed the pile up out of the official record books by deleting the dangerous restart and five laps behind the pace car that preceded it. In the end, IndyCar determined the final finishing positions by using the race order from Lap 215. That put Andretti driver Ryan Hunter-Reay in the winner’s circle despite the fact that he lost the lead to Newman/Haas driver Oriol Servia when things went green on that ill-fated restart with eight of 225 laps to go.
The problem with that decision was simple: The rulebook doesn’t allow it and it makes the series look amateurish when it creates rules to suit its needs.
That kind of action certainly didn’t sit well with Scott Dixon, who also passed Hunter-Reay on the final restart before the yellow flags waved, which should have seen him second when the race ended.
“In my eyes, I should have been second right behind Oriol Servia because Ryan didn't go. We aren’t racing USAC on the dirt, so why did they go back a lap and include no pace car laps and invert the order of how it actually played out,” said the Ganassi driver who wondered why IndyCar had a rulebook if it is not followed.
“It isn’t make things up as you go racing; it is IndyCar racing with rules. I am fine if they make decisions, they just need to be consistent. You can’t go back and do several different things and race that way. It needs to be the same thing every time.”