Roger Penske must be wondering what he's done to deserve such a volatile driver-line up in 2011. He's had Will Power's incandescent reaction
to events at the end of the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch blowing up at him over the team radio in NASCAR - and now his long-time star driver Helio Castroneves seemingly intent on starting a war between himself and IndyCar officials.
Helio's fury was sparked after he was served a penalty for overtaking JR Hildebrand under local waved yellows on the final lap of the Indy Japan road course race at Motegi. Having finished in seventh place, Helio was outraged when the final results listed him in 22nd place instead.
Castroneves doesn't argue that he was wrong to overtake Hildebrand, and he was expecting to be docked the position he'd gained after the finish. But instead, IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart applied a drive-thru penalty - which, as the offence came on the last lap too late to serve the penalty, was commuted to being sent to the back of the lead lap, the equivalent of being docked 15 positions.
"Very disappointed for finishing 7th and being put to 22nd. This is just ABSURD!!!" he tweeted after the race. And he didn't stop there, as he launched a sustained all-out attack on Barnhart. "It is sad to see one person being responsible for bringing down an entire series," he said on Twitter.
"Brian [Barnhart] is inconsistent and even changes the rule book when is convenient for him, and his own personal interests," he continued, in a serious accusation of Barnhart's personal integrity as well as that of IndyCar Series as a whole. "In the same race in International television he penalizes some but not others."
Helio even went on to echo Paul Tracy's famous attack on former Champ Car chief steward Chris Kneifel in October 2001 by concluding: "Brian Barnhart is a circus clown!"
Not happy with leaving it there, Helio then submitted a column as part of a regular series for the Brazilian Metro
newspaper that ran with the title "IndyCar has a serious problem and it's called Brian Barnhart."
"I acknowledge that he has done a lot for the series, but he has definitely lost it," Castroneves wrote. "It's impossible to accept the decisions of a race director who is inconsistent, who issues different punishment to identical situations and who is condescending with some and harsh with others ... A professional series like IndyCar shouldn't have to deal with inconsistent and amateurish decisions by a race director."
Clearly feeling personally targeted, Castroneves added: "Why does the race director do something like this when it comes to Castroneves but acts differently when it comes to other drivers?"