IndyCar Classic Race Review: All Hail Emperor Herta!

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The record books were rewritten Sunday in Texas, as the youngest driver in IndyCar history – 18 year old American legacy pilot Colton “Joaquin” Herta – incredibly won only the third start of his career. It was a popular finish throughout the paddock, as Bryan Herta’s son and Brian Barnhart’s team, Harding Steinbrenner Racing (partnered with Andretti) took their first ever series victory.

Swedish love dished out during pre-race proved badly misplaced, as Felix Rosenqvist was crashed out by James Hinchcliffe in the only full course caution of the day – after earlier spinning on his own. Fellow Scandinavian Marcus Ericsson earned a late penalty in the pits for contacting another car, dropping him to the rear of the field and sealing a fifteenth place finish. The start was clean except for Zach “son of Dracula” Veach, who made contact with Graham Rahal and ran off course, falling to last place as he was forced through and around COTA’s gravel traps.

Scott Dixon made it three wide through turn one, which is allowed under the no limits policy, followed wide right by Rahal who was then contacted by Veach. Herta split Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay (with the hyphen here to stay) to move up a position to third for a taste of things to come. Meanwhile Ganassi’s Rosenqvist dropped back two positions to eighth. Alexander Rossi challenged Will Power for the lead briefly but remained in second with Herta, Hunter-Reay and Dixon making up the top five.

Single file racing rapidly set in, with Power comfortably out front. Continue reading

Rejigger Race Control, IndyCar

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The series’ ever rotating fortune wheel of race stewards desperately needs spun again following Sunday’s debacle. For IndyCar, race control’s rapidly becoming an oxymoron. Apparently it resides in Pope Penske’s plush pocket.

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The very definition of a steward is someone “appointed to supervise the arrangements or keep order at a race . . . ,” emphasis added.

IRR’s been hot on the steward story since February when this shadowy new lineup was announced. Rest assured, IRR’s harbored a healthy skepticism toward the latest reconfiguration of race control – like all things IndyCar – from the start. The series constantly jiggers with the stewards, and Jon “not for long” Beekhuis is but one example in a paddock full of former controllers.

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Photo from indycar.com

Reporting on race control’s latest iteration since February – and before – we boldly went where no other IndyCar outlet dared. IRR published photographic evidence of a clear cut case of cronyism during pre-season testing. Remember, this fraternizing photo was published months ago, long before the latest steward story broke.  Continue reading

Bye-Bye Beaux Barfield

After the thrilling Fontana finale and awards ceremony crowning Will Power Champ, IndyCar again changed the subject and announced that Race Director Beaux Barfield was out and being replaced effective immediately. His tumultuous three year stint with the series brought much criticism and some outrageous calls – as well as non-calls – to the races he officiated. The attention Barfield generated was rarely positive or wanted by the series. Scott Dixon and other drivers received their wish last week, as calls for Barfield’s firing from drivers and others go back several seasons.

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Photo from indystar.com

The move by IndyCar looked a little amateurish but no more than usual, as Barfield only took the position in 2012 under then IndyCar head Randy Bernard. He joined IndyCar after officiating for the American Le Mans Series for four seasons. He’d also had a role in the Champ Car Series before that and therefore caused some concern immediately amongst IRL loyalists. He now returns to whence he came, joining another sports car series for next season. Bye bye Beaux. 

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Photo from indysportscrew.com

Robin Miller cheer-led for Barfield and praised his hiring, asserting that he’d straighten out the superspeedway sized mess his predecessor Brian Barnhart had created in his fifteen years in the role. The infamous restart in the rain at New Hampshire in 2011 that led to Will Power’s very public tantrum proved to be Barnhart’s downfall and eventually led to Barfield’s hiring. Miller was happy and fans anxiously awaited the needed coming change.

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Photo from indycar.com

Controversy is simply a part of the job of race director, who like umpires and referees in other sports makes many judgment calls. As we’ve previously noted here however, officials should not be a large part of the story of any race or series. The flamboyant Barfield seemed to be a story more often than he wasn’t, seemingly confusing his role as ref with the role of star driver. Fans aren’t following IndyCar because of the officiating, even if the officials are hipsters who wear cool shades and facial hair.

Barfield missed the Two in Toronto last year after encountering problems at the Canadian border and being denied entry to the country. Ah, that’s our never-boring Beaux. But his bumbling didn’t end there. One of Beaux’s babies while boss was the Baltimore race and it’s ridiculous chicane and surrounding controversy. The track was such a disaster running the cars over a light rail track after a curbed momentum-killing chicane in the middle of a straightaway that it lasted only three shaky years on the schedule before being cancelled by the city itself.

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Photo from racer.com

He ran race control during the introduction of the new Dallara DW-12 but had little to do with the cars by the time he joined the series as most of the testing and work on them had been done already. Major rule book modifications were implemented during his reign though, with some less than clear rules resulting that caused even more confusion and upset. This is especially true with the new blocking rule, which is still extremely vague and largely up to the race director’s discretion. So both calls and non-calls have continued to inflame drivers from Scott Dixon to Will Power to Marco Andretti and the position of IndyCar race control has remained unstable and at times an embarrassment.

Jan Beekhuis joined the newly formed race control triumvirate late this season and his role remains to be seen. Brian Barnhart wasn’t fired but merely demoted, so what his responsibilities will be going forward also will be interesting to watch. Will another outside person be added to race control or will a promotion from within occur? IndyCar head Derrick Walker has some serious reformation ahead of him this offseason and the decisions he makes will be crucially important for the future of the series. Here’s hoping his wise judgment prevails and we avoid another disastrous director.