Brian And Helio: Not A Love Story
Note from George – It is an unexpected honor to welcome today’s guest blogger to this site. Almost two months ago, Jeff Iannucci suddenly announced he was stepping aside from his excellent site, “My Name Is IRL”. The events of this past weekend have pulled Jeff out of his sabbatical, if only temporary. We all hope that Jeff will return to his site one day soon. In the meantime, enjoy his latest musings. – GP
Since Oilpressure is the corner of the IndyCar blogging world known for “thoughtful” posts, I asked George if I may attempt a little thoughtfulness of my own for public consumption relating to this weekend’s, umm, controversial finish in Edmonton. And the only reason I’m saying anything about this is because no one else has said what I’m going to say. Perhaps with good reason since I might be completely wrong, but at any rate here goes.
I won’t waste any time rehashing the details of this now infamous blocking rule, the enforcement of this blocking rule, who created this blocking rule, or whether or not this rule should even exist. I think most of us would agree that when we find ourselves in a time where the league is releasing footage of a drivers meeting explaining a rule that we didn’t know existed a few days ago that we’ve unfortunately crossed into a vortex of tedium from which no enthusiasm can escape. I mean, I like my racing to have a story and some visceral excitement, not some ad nauseum discussion about “the rules”. But that’s just me.
And so it is that I want to note a couple of stories that you may or may not recall, starting first in 2006. Back then as the IRL season was down to the last event of the season at Chicagoland, Helio Castroneves, who despite his many wins has never won a season championship in the IICS, was leading teammate Sam Hornish Jr by a single point. Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon were also mathematically in contention, meaning these four drivers would be expected to all race for the win. However, within the first 20 laps Helio was called out for speeding on pit lane by Brian Barnhart, and had to take a drive through penalty that effectively took him out of contention for the win in both the race and the championship. To the best of my recollection this is the only time such an otherwise invisible infraction has been called in the last race on a championship contender.
Two years later, Helio was chasing Scott Dixon for the elusive championship and was leading Justin Wilson in the next-to-last- race at Detroit. At one point Wilson had a good run on Helio, but Helio made himself wide (like “double-wide” wide) during the pass attempt and thwarted Wilson’s overtake. Brian Barnhart ruled a “block” and that Helio then had to surrender the position to Wilson, who went on to win the race and deny Helio 10 more precious points towards catching Dixon.
And now another two or so years later we have the events of this weekend, where it should be noted a blocking move was now punished not with surrendering position but a more severe drive through penalty decreed by Brian Barnhart. As the axiom goes: once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern. So three times now Brian Barnhart has taken a possible win (and once, a possible IICS championship) from Castroneves.
It’s worth noting that any race has its share of moments where drivers can be penalized, and this last race is no different. Given that rule violation for which Helio was punished you can go back and see on the start of the race Will Power took a similar line but Will was not called for any infraction. And VERSUS cameras clearly captured Dario Franchitti tapping Scott Dixon’s tire in his pit box during a stop, although Dario was not penalized. And of course many fans cried “block” by Dixon on Power the very next turn after Helio’s infamous maneuver. And those are just incidents involving the drivers who finished on the podium.
So why Helio? Is he the ONLY driver who ever blocks or speeds in the pits or breaks the rules, or is he just the only one who ever gets called for a penalty in critical situations?
Now, it is with a certain irony many folks have noted that Paul Tracy defended the decision this weekend to penalize Helio, but would that I were having a beer with Tracy – hey, it could happen! – I might suggest there may be nothing ironic about this at all. Indeed, perhaps Paul’s most enduring claim to fame might be at the heart of all of this overzealous enforcement.
When Tracy was denied victory at the 2002 Indianapolis 500 much was made of the fact that the ultimate decision for awarding the victory to Helio Castroneves had rested with Brian Barnhart. Helio is and was then a driver for Roger Penske, and Brian Barnhart was at one time an employee of Roger Penske. Many folks connected these dots and concluded the fix was in for Helio in 2002 regardless of whatever evidence Tracy and his team may have presented.
DISCLAIMER: I’m only noting this for historical purposes – stay focused, people. Those aren’t the dots I’m addressing; I’m talking about those dots from 2006, 2008, and now in 2010 that indicate that if there’s any way to penalize Helio that the wrath of the Iron Hand of Justice will come down on him hard and heavy.
I’m not a psychologist and I don’t usually play one here at Oilpressure, but I can’t help but wonder if this is all some sort of over compensation on Barnhart’s part to show he doesn’t have any explicit bias for Helio or Team Penske. Or maybe Barnhart has grown bitter towards Castroneves over all the years of crap Brian has endured over that decision in 2002. Or maybe he just doesn’t like the guy and his happy dancing self. I don’t know Barnhart – who along with Tracy and Castroneves I’ve never had the pleasure of sharing a pint – enough to speculate, but the history here has the appearance that there’s something there beyond just a league official enforcing the rules.
Unless of course Barnhart comes out and throws a black flag at Will Power or Scott Dixon or Dario Franchitti the next time either of them are leading a race. I know, I know – that appears about as likely as me hosting a beer summit with Brian and Helio (it could happen, I tell ya!). Until then, perhaps Helio could help keep everyone focused on the rage by appearing in the remaining races wearing Rod Smart’s immortal XFL jersey.