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Teams lodge protests over NHMS result

17 August 2011

Ryan Hunter-Reay's victory in the MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is under threat, after it was confirmed that formal protests have been filed by Newman/Haas Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

The IZOD IndyCar Series organisers also confirmed that the protests - which had to be lodged within 30 minutes of the posting of official results on Sunday afternoon - have had a preliminary review and that the decision has been made to hold a formal hearing in Indianapolis sometime next week.

It's thought to be the first (public) official protest to proceed to a full hearing in Indy racing since 2002.

And in a dramatic move, IndyCar's president of competition Brian Barnhart - who is at the very centre of the storm - has stepped away from officiating over the protest as would normally be his role as senior official, and will instead nominated an independent panel to review the case.

"Given my role in race control, I feel that it is in everyone's best interest to have an independent panel hear the protests," said Barnhart. "I believe a panel will help maintain a fair hearing."

Update: Barnhart named the members of the independent panel as Jerry Gappens, the general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway; Rollie Helmling, former president and chief executive officer of the United States Auto Club (USAC); and Jeff Stoops, Chairman of the Board for USAC and whose company Stoops Freightliner is a current team sponsor in IndyCar.

The hearing must be held within 14 days of the race according to the series rules, and IndyCar has said that the hearing will take place in Indianapolis in the week commencing August 22.

As well as team representatives from Newman/Haas Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing who lodged the protest, IndyCar have also invited Andretti Autosport to the protest hearing given their interest in the outcome with Hunter-Reay's win in the balance.

The dispute focuses on the controversial final restart of the race, where Ryan Hunter-Reay led the field to the green flag after race control decided to attempt to get the race going again despite rain over the track. Hunter-Reay had a bad restart and lost the lead to Oriol Servia and Scott Dixon, while behind them Danica Patrick spun off turn 4 onto the front straightaway and caused a multiple-car wreck that immediately sent the race back to a full course caution.

Race director Barnhart subsequently admitted that the decision to attempt a restart had been "an error on race control standpoint, and clearly my fault," and made the decision to view the final restart to have been "aborted" despite the few seconds of green flag racing.

That meant the result was taken from the running order before the aborted restart, when Hunter-Reay was still leading, and he was duly listed as the race winner when the red and chequered flags came out.

"I think priority one for us is to admit our mistake and do the right thing with regard to the finishing order," said Barnhart. "That wasn't [the drivers'] fault. That was mine. So the right thing to do was to go back and not jeopardise them or go back and affect their standings in the race result for the championship, go back to where the last stop was run before my mistake was made."

But at the post-race press conference, both Servia and Dixon were angry about the sudden reinterpretation of rules that appeared to them to be without precedence or basis in the rulebook.

"In IndyCar, I've never seen before [that] after they throw a green and then it goes yellow after, but they go back to restart before," said Servia. "They did it in NASCAR [but] I've never seen it in IndyCar. That's to me the most confusing."

"When have we ever gone back?" asked Dixon. "We're not racing dirt cars, we're not racing USAC. We don't go back to a previous restart. We don't count pace laps. When has that ever happened in IndyCar racing? Never, since I've been in my 10 years.

"The rules are not confusing, it's the enforcement of them sometimes," emphasised Servia.

And Barnhart himself seemed to recognise that he had stepped away from strict interpretation of the rulebook when he said "You're in a position where from a rule book standpoint you count the yellow laps unless otherwise stated, but to me the logic behind it was that it's the right thing."

Ryan Hunter-Reay's stance was understandably different from those of Servia and Dixon: "The rule in IndyCar, just so you know on starts and restarts, the leader has to reach the start/finish line first," he said.

"That's a rule. There's another rule, too. The guy behind the leader can't come out of line behind the leader until he gets to the start/finish line. So both those things happened. There's a lot of rules stuff going on.

"It was definitely a roller coaster there," he admitted of the heightened emotions of those final minutes. "I was pretty angry that we were going green when it was still rain. You could see it on the visor, it was pooling down. I was warming up the tire, almost losing the car just warming up the tires. I'm glad we didn't make it to Turn 1."

Hunter-Reay also explained what had happened when the green flag briefly came out, and why he had lost the lead: "It rained on an oval. We were five laps from the end ... I couldn't even put the power down in second or third gear, it was that wet."

While Newman/Haas Racing's protest is about claiming what they believe is their rightful win - which would be the first for the team since Justin Wilson in Detroit in 2008 - the situation for Ganassi is rather more nuanced.

Certainly Dixon hopes to be awarded second place, which would be a boost for his title hopes after team mate and championship leader Dario Franchitti crashed out mid-race. But the major impact for the team would be regarding exactly where Penske's Will Power would be classified if the current results were overturned.

Power - who is Franchitti's closest rival for the championship - closed 15pts closer to Dario after the results showed him in fifth place at the end of New Hampshire. However, Power was one of those caught up in the aftermath of Danica Patrick's spin and finished the race crunched up against the inside wall on the front straightaway, leading to angry scenes as he called for Barnhart to be fired for the decision to restart and then flipping off race officials on live TV - both of which he subsequently apologised for.

If the results are revised and taken instead from the running order at the moment the red flag came out five laps after the aborted restart, then Power's points gain over Franchitti will be all but wiped out. That would restore the former status quo between the two drivers and hand the Ganassi driver a bigger lead going into the final five races of the season.

Team Penske have not been invited to send any representatives to attend the protest hearing.

Penske and Will Power also have yet to hear whether any action will be taken against the driver for his post-race remarks and gestures. IndyCar can be extremely harsh on anyone questioning the integrity of the sport, with O2 Racing Technology recently thrown out of the junior Indy Lights series for questioning the organisers' conduct and for allegedly attempting to organise a boycott of the Milwaukee race in protest.

However it seems that even if a fine is handed down, Power will find no lack of people willing to step in and pay it for him: even his team co-owner Roger Penske has volunteered to stump up any fine, after saying that Power was essentially speaking for everyone in the paddock over the state of the officiating this season.


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