IndyCar: Race Stewards Need to Step Up

Apr 17, 2016; Long Beach, CA, USA; Simon Pagenaud wins the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the streets of Long Beach. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2016; Long Beach, CA, USA; Simon Pagenaud wins the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the streets of Long Beach. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Simon Pagenaud is the winner of the 2016 IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, but days after the race the finish remains the subject of debate. The problem stems from how the Team Penske driver moved into the lead. He slipped in front of Target Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon while exiting the pits. Fans, television announcers, and the Ganassi camp say he broke a rule by crossing the blend line too early and he should have been penalized more harshly than the warning he received.

Let me get this out of the way right now: the race stewards for the Verizon IndyCar Series did not make the wrong call when they gave Pagenaud a warning for crossing the blend line too early. The problem is that they made the call at all. That’s not to say Pagenaud didn’t break the rule. It means the officiating of the entire race was not balanced. Believe it or not, Pagenaud was not the only driver to cut across the blend line too early. In fact, Scott Dixon is also guilty of cutting across the blend line. (See the screenshot from the race broadcast included in this article). Race Control needs to either make the call all race long or don’t make the call at all. There should be no waffling.

Scott Dixon also cut it close on crossing the pit exit blend line at the 2016 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. /

The point is that fans, drivers, and teams are once again left scratching their heads over the inconsistent officiating in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Race Control had several opportunities throughout the race to hand down penalties to several drivers. Instead, they failed to make a call until the race-winning move and even then the “call” was a meaningless warning. Warnings have no place in racing. If a driver breaks a rule, then he should be punished no matter where they are on the grid at the time.

It’s not just the pit exit blend line violations that were missed by Race Control. Rookie driver Max Chilton found a creative way to get through Turn 5 by going behind the curbing and gaining ground on the cars in front. He did it more than once and was caught on television running the “unorthodox” line. Whether Chilton knew he was cutting the corner or not doesn’t matter. He broke the rules and should have been penalized. Instead, he got a warning and didn’t have to give up any track position he gained using the “shortcut”.

The inconsistent officiating isn’t even restricted to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Go back just one race and you see the finish is affected again by shoddy officiating. The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix finished under caution after rookie Alexander Rossi smacked the outside wall. But, many fans say the caution should have come out sooner for a large piece of debris on the frontstretch. Instead, Race Control allowed green flag conditions to continue saying after the race that the debris was out of the racing line. In this writer’s opinion, if a large piece of metal is on the racing surface at all it should be picked up. That means the yellow should have come out earlier; which likely would have set up a green flag dash to the finish.

Next: What the IndyCar Title Really Means

In short, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ race stewards need to step up. They need to prove that they are the rule of law in Indy car racing. Meaningless warnings and post-race penalties or fines need to be eliminated. The stewards should enforce the rules with an iron fist that comes down equally throughout each event. If the inconsistent officiating continues, the series will lose the respect of its teams, drivers, and fans. That is to say, if it hasn’t lost it already.