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Probation for Rahal after Long Beach

17 April 2012

The IZOD IndyCar Series officials have served a six-race probation on Graham Rahal for his actions during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach at the weekend, which resulted in Marco Andretti's car being launched into the air over the back of Rahal's.

Andretti's car flew into the air on lap 22 of the 85-lap race on the run down to turn 8 after Rahal appeared to pull out from his existing line in order to block Andretti's attempt to overtake him, something that is not allowed under IndyCar rules. The #26 Andretti Autosport car came perilously close to barrel-rolling, but finally returned to the ground right-side up and skidded into a tyre barrier, where Andretti was able to climb out unaided.

"It's one thing blocking but it's another thing chopping, and that was a chop," fumed Marco Andretti immediately following the accident. "I'm lucky I didn't get upside down, I could have been killed."

Rahal denied that he had made a blocking move and said that the apparent swerve his car made was due to the contact Marco had made to the back of the #38 Ganassi, which had pulled his car to the right before Andretti's car went airborne.

"By the rules, you're allowed to make one move. I made one move," insisted Rahal. "At the speed he hit me at, he wouldn't have made the corner. It broke my gearbox, that's how hard he hit me."

Both cars retired after the incident, which meant that any consideration of blame for the incident was postponed until after the race weekend.

"Due to the inability of the #38 car to continue the race, a review of the on-track actions of Graham Rahal became a post-race issue," said Beaux Barfield, IndyCar's president of competition and the race director for the Long Beach event.

"All stewards have reviewed the incident and have decided that the on-track actions of Graham warranted probation because of driving that endangers on-track safety and adversely affects competition," he continued.

Rahal was handed the six-race probation under rule 9.3.2 relating to blocking ("a driver must not alter his/her racing line based on the actions of pursuing drivers to inhibit or prevent passing") and also under rule 9.3.3 relating to initiating an avoidable contact affecting another competitor's track position.

The probation period will end following the IZOD IndyCar Series event at Iowa Speedway on June 23. IndyCar can impose other penalties at its discretion if the improvements are not made in the standard of driving over the period. Rahal can still exercise his right to appeal the decision.

IndyCar officials also reported back about why Andretti's car was thrown into the air by wheel-on-wheel contact despite the introduction of rear wheel guards or "bumpers" to the new DW12 cars this season. Video and telemetry evidence showed that the speed and shallow angle of approach of Andretti's car squashed the guard inwards from the side, leaving the wheels with enough overlap to allow the direct contact that threw the #26 skywards.

"The rear wheel guard was designed to reduce wheel-to-wheel contact. It can't eliminate it," IndyCar's vice president of technology Will Phillips told indycar.com. "In this instance, it could not prevent it but it mitigated what could have been a worse accident.

"In several instances during the race it did exactly what it was designed to do," he insisted. "In one instance, it was not able to completely prevent wheel-to-wheel contact."

Meanwhile, Graham Rahal has also been trading messages with Marco's grandfather Mario Andretti on social networking service Twitter, after Rahal made a comment to the Associated Press that seemed to disparage the Andretti family name as a whole.

"What's Marco's last name?" Rahal was quoted as saying by the AP at Long Beach. "I've said enough."

"What is your problem with me?" Mario Andretti shot back the next day on Twitter. "Your quote to AP says Marco is an Andretti so enough said. That insult includes me. You insulted me to the world & I responded."

Rahal resisted the impulse to continue the row in public and tweeted instead that he was very surprised that Mario had chosen to do so rather than call and discuss in private. Subsequent tweets revealed that it was then Rahal made the first call and that peace broke out, at least on Twitter.

"Thank you for the call," said Mario on Tuesday. "All is well between us. Now let's go win some races."

"Great speaking with you," said an equally polite reply from Rahal. "We will get some wins no doubt, see you in May!"

Time will tell whether the nascent feud between two of the most famous American families on US motor sports has been defused or whether it will spark again at the next race in São Paulo, Brazil on April 29 or at the Indianapolis 500 in May.


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