The IndyCar organisers are seeking to bounce back from recent criticism about their handling of on-track infractions, by taking a more serious and pro-active line with penalties.

Three drivers have been placed under probation until December 31 following repeated on-track accidents during races so far this season, which requires the drivers to improve their driving and overtaking judgement calls, or face the imposition of more severe penalties.

Mike Conway has been put under probation after making contact with Ryan Briscoe at Toronto, and for causing an avoidable contact with Oriol Servia at Edmonton. Conway was penalised during both races at the time, serving a pit lane penalty after the race went green again.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was put on probation after making contact with Briscoe at Barber Motorsports Park during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in April, and for spinning pole sitter Takuma Sato during the most recent race at Edmonton, for he also received a drive-thru penalty on the afternoon.

And Alex Tagliani was similarly put under probation until the end of the season. In Tagliani's case, it was for his contact with Will Power that put the Penske driver out of the Toronto race, followed by his lunge down the inside at the start of the Edmonton race that ended up with him hitting the side of Graham Rahal's car, putting Rahal out of the race and leading to the Ganassi car spinning off and collecting Paul Tracy just moments later.

The probation ruling was made under IndyCar's Rule 9.3, which states that "a competitor must not initiate or attempt to initiate avoidable contact that results in the interruption of another competitor's lap time or track position." All three drivers may appeal the imposition of the probation, although it's not certain exactly what difference probation will actually mean in practice.

The move by IndyCar to "beef up" their policing of on-track infractions comes in the wake of criticism of the race officials headed by IndyCar president of competition Brian Barnhart for their handling of recent races, especially the crash-filled Toronto race. Many drivers have complained that the decisions have lacked consistency and that penalties have not been handed out when they should have been.

The most controversial incident occurred at Toronto when Dario Franchitti made a half-hearted move down the inside of turn 3 and tapped title rival into a spin that sent him to the back of the lead lap. Franchitti was not penalised for the incident, and Power railed against the lack of action by IndyCar in post races, calling Franchitti "a dirty racer" and declaring that he wasn't surprised that Franchitti was penalised because Dario never was.

"Some guys know they can break the rules and get away with it. It would be nice to see it more strict like it is in Formula 1," said Briscoe recently about the unhappiness that drivers were feeling. "We never really know how far we can take it."

Barnhart insisted that the decisions had been consistent, although he noted drily that "People are entitled to their opinions, and we've had numerous opinions." Barnhart said the distinction was whether a driver was coming into a turn "in a careless or reckless fashion," or not: "If you're racing and we deem it to not be overly aggressive, that way we consider it a racing incident."

To many fans and observers, the Toronto race did seem to get wild and rather out of hand before Barnhart and his fellow officiators Al Unser Jr and Tony Cotman started to take a harsher and more punitive stance later in the race. The situation was not helped by mixed signals during the Toronto race suggesting that Franchitti had been penalised for his clash with Power only for the penalty to be 'reversed' - when in fact it had never been imposed in the first place, the decision having been that it belonged under the 'racing incident' category after all. Many would - and did - disagree.

By comparison, the officials took a more pro-active stance from the start of the Edmonton race, and it appeared to do the trick - notably sending out the signal to the field from the outset that such nonsense would not be tolerated this time around.

IndyCar will be hoping that the extra imposition of probations on the multiple offenders of the season to date will send a further signal to drivers that standards must be improved and that collisions must be minimised, ahead of the series' visit to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio this weekend.


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