Amid criticism of the standard of racing in the IndyCar Series this season, particularly following a decidedly downbeat Bombardier Learjet 550k at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, were a handful of comments relating to what was seen as an unfair advantage for racewinner Helio Castroneves.
The Brazilian's Team Penske team-mate Ryan Briscoe had appeared on course for victory in Forth Worth, following a dominant run at the front of the field for the second week in a row, but the Australian was beaten off pit-lane at the final caution by a combination of Castroneves' receiving quick service and his location at the far end of the stalls.
"The guys in the pits did an awesome job all night long, but the pit out there has such an advantage," Briscoe sighed after finishing second, "That's what killed us."
According to the Indy Racing League rulebook, pit assignments are based on entrant points entering each event - aside from the Indianapolis 500 - with the points leader at the pit-lane exit out and the remainder continuing in order of decreasing points to the pit-lane entry. Multi-car teams are allowed to average or split entrant points, with their decision provided to the sanctioning body before the season. If a team averages its entrant points, it is permitted to position the cars in any order.
The furthest pit stall is preferred because there isn't a car and its personnel in front to weave around, and is just a few yards to the pit out timing line so drivers are not affected by the 60mph pit-lane limit. Hit that line first - as Castroneves did after a lap 175 stop that took all of six seconds - and you're in business. What frustrated rivals, however, was that the Brazilian was there at all, given that he had missed the opening round of the season, and trailed Briscoe and others heading into the round.
The key to the matter was Will Power's contribution the situation, the Australian having substituted for Castroneves in the #3 car at the season-opening race in St Petersburg, and picked up 28 entrant points for his sixth-place finish. Heading into the Bombardier Learjet 550k, those points - combined with the 136 earned over the four races Castroneves has competed in - provided the #3 with enough to top the charts, and claim the optimum pit stall.
"A tight pit area like this is key because you don't need to worry about how you stop the car, you just need to worry about leaving as fast as you can," Castroneves admitted, "Because of those pits, when you're in the front, obviously it's a great advantage."
And the advantage looks set to continue next weekend too. Though he's the IndyCar Series points leader heading into the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer at Iowa Speedway, Briscoe will occupy the second pit stall as Castroneves' #3 entry still holds a 15-point upper hand.