Hélio Castroneves and Team Penske have been allowed to keep their win earned last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway’s Firestone 550, despite the Brazilian’s #3 entry violating a post-race technical inspection.
Post-race inspections revealed that the car failed the guidelines of Rule 126.96.36.199 (Underwing), which regulated the size and position of the Dallara DW12’s underwing and rear diffuser. The diffuser exit on Castroneves’ car was found to measure 7.565 inches, fractions less than the mandated 7.6 inches stipulated in the technical rules.
The outfit was given a slap on the wrist for the misdemeanor, fined $35,000 and docked 15 entrant points (a team-based leaderboard that not even the teams care about) for their troubles.
Team Penske was quick to hit the damage limitation button, blaming a mechanic’s error for the rules breach, while stressing that Castroneves gained no advantage with the illegal diffuser setup.
That justification appears difficult to swallow when you look at Castroneves’ winning margin of some 5 seconds, a hugely unusual gap at an oval where races are typically won by mere tenths of a second. As our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon wrote in his review of the race, Castroneves “crushed the opposition, [he] was the only driver able to run on a high line on the circuit nobody else was able to.”
“Obviously, we are very disappointed that the No. 3 car did not pass post-race inspection after Saturday’s race at Texas. The rule in question (188.8.131.52) states that the diffuser exit must measure 7.6". After the race, ours was 7.575" because we neglected to tighten the braces that position the rear of the diffuser following pre-race inspection,” Team Penske president Tim Cindric said.
“The way Hélio’s car raced did not provide any advantage as a lower diffuser height actually adds drag and reduces downforce. To ensure this is the case, we ran this configuration in the wind tunnel on Monday morning and found that the No. 3 car actually raced with three pounds less downforce and one pound more drag than what it would have had if we tightened the underwing braces properly.”
That may be all well and good, but IndyCar remains one of the few championships that issues nominal fines for (sometimes) flagrant rules breaches, as opposed to the more conventional path taken by other series’ in docking points, stripping results and issuing suspensions.
The outcome mirrors that of last year’s Firestone 550, where racewinner Justin Wilson was allowed to keep his win despite his Dale Coyne Racing team fitting his car with a sidepod design that was prohibited at the circuit.
It certainly calls into question the championship’s credibility when the officialdom remains as wildly inconsistent as it is at the moment. At the previous round in Detroit, Sébastien Bourdais and Will Power were put on probation for the remainder of the season for their respective tantrums after they collided in Race 2.
Bourdais’ teammate Sebastián Saavedra, however, was hit with a $30,000 – and no probation – for flipping the bird at Marco Andretti in Race 1 after he was knocked out of the race.
And in Race 1 qualifying at Detroit, James Jakes’ Rahal Letterman Lanigan team was fined $10,000 after a technical inspection found that the rear wing mainplane on the Englishman’s car was incorrectly set. Jakes has never been known for his qualifying speed (or race speed, for that matter), and yet me comfortably qualified fourth-quickest and went on to claim his first podium finish. Something smells a little rotten in our opinion…
So to ask our question again: where is the consistency, and what is the IndyCar Series officialdom going to do to fix it?