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Hinchcliffe, Bourdais hit by grid penalties

12 April 2012

Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe and Lotus Dragon Racing's Sebastein Bourdais already know that it's going to be a tough weekend at the office for them in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, after both drivers had engine failures during testing earlier this week.

The Chevrolet engine of Hinchcliffe's #27 GoDaddy.com car failed early during testing held on Monday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. Hinchliffe lost all of that day's track time while engineers looked into the issue, but the unit couldn't be reliably repaired and Hinchliffe will now take a ten-place grid penalty when he lines up at the start of Sunday's street race.

Similarly, Sebastien Bourdais' #7 Lotus Dragon Racing has required an unscheduled engine change for Long Beach after problems were found with it following the end of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 1, and so the Frenchman will take a similar ten-spot hit on the Long Beach starting grid.

They are the fourth and fifth such penalties levied so far this season, after only two of 16 races. Simon Pagenaud's #77 Schmidt-Hamilton car had a ten spot penalty in St Petersburg, and both Alex Tagliani's #98 Team Barracuda-BHA car and Oriol Servia's #22 Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car were penalised in Alabama.

Under new rules this season to keep teams' costs under control, any engine replacement that does not occur as a result of a failure during an actual race or because the unit has reached the end of its 1850-mile projected lifespan incurs a penalty in the next event.

New IndyCar president of competition Beaux Barfield admitted that it was rather unfair that the teams and drivers should take the penalty for a problem for a piece of equipment that is not under their control.

"I share the fans' pain in that it sort of lacks sensibility in penalising a team and driver rather than penalising the engine manufacture itself," he said, describing the agreed rule as a "a self-imposed penalty" wanted by the engine manufacturers to ensure that there was no attempt by one manufacturer to outspend the others.

"In order to try and keep the engine leases and the engine programs at a reasonable price for a team, they decided this would be an appropriate way to try and move forwards to try and control that," said Barfield. "If they have engine issues within the 1850 miles and they are putting in new engines now, by the end of the year they may be on their sixth or seventh engine."

However, Barfield admitted that the failure of engines during testing sessions was an unintended consequence of that rule and that he was unhappy with the possibility that it might curtail teams' testing activities in the future.

Engine manufacturers do not even allow teams to keep hold of old engines for test sessions once they exceed their 1850-mile projected life, as the units are returned to the manufacturer for a full strip-down and rebuild before being cycled back into the pool of available engines for teams to draw upon. Only engines that suffer a "catastrophic failure" are rotated out of the pool.

"Trying to get the car developed and get as many miles on it and such as possible, it's in everybody's best interest," Barfield said. "So for us sort of inadvertently putting a regulation out there that disincentivises testing, that is absolutely not what we want."

The relevant section of the IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook states that: "Any unapproved engine change out, except those caused by engine failure in a race, will result in a 10-place grid penalty."

However, the rulebook also states that: "An engine that has experienced a problem deemed sufficient to require change-out as mutually agreed by IndyCar and [the] engine manufacturer that is beyond the reasonable control of either the entrant or engine manufacturer (such as faulty fuel, accident, damage to the engines caused by act of God, etc.) may be replaced with an engine from the pool without penalty."

Barfield said that if any of the teams felt that this was the case with this weekend's grid penalties then they could make their case to IndyCar's vice president of technology, Will Phillips. In the longer term, he was looking at holding a meeting with all concerned with a view to how to amend the rule, although he pointed out that one issue was how those teams that had already been hit with a penalty under the existing system would be retrospectively compensated.

Barfield said that he hoped that such a meeting would happen soon, and that he intended to "bring everybody in and share some opinions to see how we feel about where the rule has gotten us and how everybody feels about the possibility of changing it.

"Obviously [it would have to] take into consideration how the teams that have already been penalized this year might look at that precedent, and if it's something the manufacturers would be interested in considering."


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