Blocking is in the eye of the beholder in IndyCar
Scott Dixon watched Helio Castroneves move his No. 3 Honda a
couple car widths to the outside entering Turn 1 at Edmonton two
weeks ago, in an attempt to cutoff Penske Racing teammate Will
Uh-oh Helio, Dixon thought. That’s a no-no.
IndyCar officials agreed, black-flagging Castroneves for
blocking with two laps remaining, a ruling that helped Dixon pick
up his second victory of the season while Castroneves was bumped to
The typically affable Brazilian erupted afterward, earning
himself a $60,000 fine for grabbing an official. Castroneves
apologized for his behavior but still believes he did nothing wrong
on the track, arguing the rule is too vague.
”The calls have been very inconsistent and I felt I should not
have been black-flagged and the rules do not say that,” he said.
”They change. So it’s sad.”
His fellow drivers disagree, claiming the first turn at Edmonton
is one of the easiest spots in the series to police.
The turn comes at the end of a long straightaway that’s actually
an airport runway. A series of black tire marks highlight the
typical path of a race car. Castroneves appeared to go well outside
it to keep Power in his rearview mirror.
”I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” said Dario
Franchitti. ”It’s such a blatant disregard for the rules. What’s
Yet drivers understand Castroneves’ frustration. Blocking in
Indycar is akin to holding in football or charging in basketball:
something that’s entire up to the eye of the beholder.
”It’s a hard call to make because half the time you don’t know
if it’s going to be called or not,” said Dixon, who has been
penalized three times for blocking during his career.
IndyCar president of competition Brian Barnhart said race
officials do the best they can trying to make sure two dozen
drivers racing in close quarters at high speeds remain on their
It isn’t easy, particularly when dealing with people whose
livelihood depends on getting around the next corner ahead of
everyone else. Barnhart maintains blocking ”is being as
consistently enforced as we can do it” but that the rule is
”We try to make it as clear as possible,” Barnhart said.
Even if it doesn’t always appear that way to fans.
Driver Graham Rahal watched the Edmonton race with his
girlfriend. When he saw Castroneves hop outside to shut the door on
Power, he immediately knew Castroneves had crossed the line. His
girlfriend didn’t see it that way.
His message: sorry, this isn’t NASCAR.
”I think that the beauty of our sport is the clean racing,”
said Rahal, who posted the fastest practice time on Friday for
Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio. ”Stock cars it’s like ‘Oh, I’m going to
get by this guy so I’m not going to break this corner and take him
out.’ That’s not racing. That’s bumper cars.”
Barnhart stressed the rules against blocking aren’t there to
prohibit drivers from racing, it’s to protect them from each
Unlike NASCAR, where ”rubbing is racing” is part of the show,
IndyCar drivers have to be more careful. One inadvertent clipping
of wheels can send cars into the wall or worse.
It’s dangerous. It’s expensive and can make for a less than
If officials loosened up the rules, Barnhart fears races would
turn into nothing but a three-hour caution-filled parade with
drivers taking turns knocking each other out.
For a series trying to rebrand itself, that’s not exactly a good
”We’ve got to do what we can to make our sport easy to
follow,” he said. ”We’ve got to do what we can to make our sport
There is a middle ground, one the series hopes to find in 2012
when it unveils its redesigned car. The new car will feature new
safety measures that could allow drivers to race closer
It’s an avenue officials are willing to explore, if it makes
And for all the controversy the finish at Edmonton stirred up,
Barnhart knows it’s up to the drivers to decide what to do, all
officials can do is try to keep them in line.
”They’ve got the controls, they’ve got the wheels and they’ve
got the pedals,” he said. ”They make the decisions, not us and it
all boils down to one thing: respect.”