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Team exits Indy Lights over 'integrity'
1 July 2011
O2 Racing Technology has left the 2011 Indy Lights Series after a row about technical inspection during the David Hobbs 100 Milwaukee Mile race in June led to the team accusing the series sanctioning body, IndyCar, of having an "integrity issue."
O2 had already announced on June 22 that they had withdrawn their entries for the rest of the year after the row led to the team's investors and sponsors pulling their backing.
IndyCar made this exclusion formal and irreversible by announcing on June 29 that O2 Racing Technology's series license and membership was being suspended until the end of 2012 "for attempting to impede the conduct of the event by encouraging others to breach contracts with IndyCar" by inciting other teams and drivers to pull out of the weekend's race in a protest over IndyCar's officiating.
The row started when two Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars failed technical inspection following Indy Lights qualifying for the David Hobbs 100 at the Milwaukee Mile. One car was found to have illegal oil and the other had illegal modifications to its brakes.
However, a follow-up review of the decision caused the finding to be reversed and the two cars reinstated, infuriating O2 Racing Technology's team owner and president Mark Olson.
"If cheating has happened and the championship adversely affected, then the championship has been compromised. This problem isn't hard to fix, but it's devastating to our team," Olson had said.
The incident sparked a huge storm over the transparency of Indy Lights series officiating and the integrity of the championship. A document from series officials at an Indy Lights owners meeting on Saturday at the Milwaukee Mile revealed 53 violations, with a variety of penalties from 2008-2010.
IndyCar - which is the sanctioning body of Indy Lights Series as well as the senior IndyCar Series - admitted that communications from their side over the matter had not been good.
"We've been poor in our communication with our teams, but have addressed transparency in the future," said Will Phillips, series official and IndyCar Vice President of Technology. "We now have a system in place for both series. We are 100% committed to a platform that is equal."
The new set of guidelines of how IndyCar would be more transparent in its decisions was implemented in time for the series visit to Iowa Speedway last weekend.
However, the row over technical inspections, transparency and "integrity" had led Mark Olson to try and organise a boycott of the Milwaukee event, although in the end only the O2 Racing Technology team actually pulled out and the event went ahead with the remaining entrants.
IndyCar took a very poor view of anyone trying to interrupt the running of a race weekend in progress, and found O2 Racing Technology to have been in violation of multiple rules as listed in the Indy Lights rulebook leading to the decision to eject the team from the 2011 and 2012 Indy Lights Series. Olson's own personal membership of the series was also rescinded until December 31, 2012.
"The mere act of attempting to impede the conduct of the event is something we will not tolerate," said Indy Lights executive director Roger Bailey. "We must maintain the integrity of our series."
Olson and O2 Racing Technology have the right of appeal, but given that their own investors have pulled the plug on their backing for the team for the time being it is seen as highly unlikely and rather pointless that they would seek to do so at the current time.
Olson said that the sponsors and investors had pulled out because of the "integrity issues (outside of our control) with the 2011 Indy Lights series championship," and that the backers had "decided to temporarily take a step back and to reconsider their participation. Unfortunately, this also impacts the teams' ability to participate.
"We're heartbroken over the knock-on effects that this situation has on our team members' families and on the careers of our drivers [Mikael Grenier and Peter Dempsey], but we're hopeful that confidence will be restored in the integrity of the Indy Lights championship in a timely manner and that our partners will be encouraged to resume their participation."
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