COUNTERPOINT: The pass on EJ Viso

Counterpoint, IndyCar commentary — By on April 6, 2011 8:37 pm
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This article was originally posted to INDYCAR Nation on March 30th, 2011. To view More Front Wing’s exclusive INDYCAR Nation content as soon as it’s released, sign up for INDYCAR Nation today at indycarnation.indycar.com.

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In this edition of Counterpoint, Paul and Steph debate whether EJ Viso properly handled being lapped during the late-race battle between Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro in St. Petersburg.

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STEPH’S POINT:

I can’t find a video to link, but here’s what I recall of the situation we’re debating: Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro, in a heated battle for third place in the waning laps of the race, came upon the lapped car of EJ Viso. Going into turn 1, TK easily got past Viso, and Simona followed him and got by as well. However, Simona braked a touch too late and swung a bit wide at the apex, which allowed Viso to tuck back into the inside and sneak past her to put himself between her and TK going into turn 2.

Now, if EJ had been racing for position, I’d agree with Paul — there would be absolutely nothing wrong in that case.

But EJ wasn’t racing for position, which turned this otherwise good display of racing into a serious faux pas.

In fact, not only was EJ not racing for position with TK and Simona, but he was several laps down from them and was not engaged in a battle of his own at the time.

That being the case — barring some catastrophic move from Simona such as slowing to a crawl or ending up in the run-off — EJ should have, as a professional racer, had the courtesy to get the heck out of the way and let both cars by cleanly so they could continue their fight.

At the time, EJ was on a lap all his own. It would have made no difference whatsoever to his finishing position if he had checked up to let Simona carry on through the turn. Instead, EJ’s slower car got in her way and let TK open up a gap, breaking up what had been a heart-stoppingly fantastic battle for the final spot on the podium. Given how equal today’s cars are and how difficult it is to get a run on someone, let alone overtake, EJ cost Simona enough time that she ran out of laps before she could fully regain her momentum.

The only thing that EJ could possibly have had to gain by acting as he did was to give TK a teammate courtesy by letting him get a little breathing room over Simona. But what was a friendly service to TK was a major disservice to the fans who were enjoying what was by far the best battle that had gone on all race.

The deeper cause of the problem here, unfortunately, is that Race Control doesn’t throw out black flags in situations like this. If the drivers of lapped cars can’t of their own volition stay out of battles in which they have no stake, they should be compelled to through the consistent application of warnings and penalties. However, creating enforcing for this courtesy — which really shouldn’t need enforcing anyway — is not currently a priority, and quality racing such as the battle between TK and Simona is diminished as a result.

By acting as he did, EJ very possibly cost Simona her first IZOD IndyCar Series podium finish in a situation where he had absolutely nothing to gain. That doesn’t sound like he “didn’t in any way impede Simona” to me.

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PAUL’S POINT:

Fans who have followed Steph and me on Twitter for very long know that we are somewhat infamous for airing our differences publicly and often.  Given our backgrounds and how we came to be IndyCar fans (Steph from a road racing background, myself from an oval heritage), it’s only natural that we see the rules of racing conduct differently, both in their merit and their enforcement.

A place where we typically find common ground centers on one basic principle: a rule or procedure should never be put into place that calls into question the integrity of the race.  More specifically, we both agree that a rule should never give a driver a position or a benefit they didn’t earn.  For example, we were both adamantly against the free passor Lucky Dog rule that Randy Bernard floated in the media several weeks ago because it would have given a driver a lap back that wasn’t earned.  Likewise, we agreed that if the IZOD IndyCar Series was to implement double-file restarts, any lapped cars should remain in place on the restart as the leader had earned the right to that buffer as a result of passing those lapped cars under race conditions.

With that in mind, it’s surprising to me that Steph and I disagree yet again on the concept of racer etiquette and how a driver not racing for position should allow faster cars to get past.  We’ve argued about this concept before (most recently in the aftermath of the Alex Lloyd/Justin Wilson incident at Long Beach last year), but the topic reared its ugly head again this weekend when, in the waning laps of Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete, KV Racing Technology/Lotus driver EJ Viso was approached from behind by teammate Tony Kanaan and HVM Racing driver Simona de Silvestro.  As the trio exited turn 14 and proceeded down the frontstraight, Kanaan was able to easily get past his teammate prior to reaching the start/finish line.  Simona, on the other hand, was further back and forced to make an aggressive move on Viso, which caused her to drive into the corner too hard and lose valuable track position when Viso repassed her on the exit of the turn.

Based on arguments that Steph has used unsuccessfully in the past, I imagine she will try to put forth evidence of road racing tradition and a “gentleman’s agreement” that a lapped car can race the leader hard but that once a lapped car is passed, the driver should allow all following cars to pass easily.  Given just a few brief moments to ponder this, one can easily see such an argument holds no more water than the hated Lucky Dog rule, which we both agreed encroached upon the integrity of the racing.  Maybe it’s just my oval-racing background speaking, but it makes no sense to me how any sort of fairness comes into play when a leading driver has to work hard to pass a lapped car, often requiring several laps to successfully complete the maneuver and possibly sacrificing a significant time advantage over the trailing car, while the trailing car gets a free pass.  See?  There’s that term again — free pass.  Nothing in racing should be free!

Upon watching the replay of the incident several times, my view of the incident only becomes more crystallized with each pass.  Viso did absolutely nothing wrong in this situation and deserves to shoulder none of the blame for Simona being unable to complete the pass.  EJ not only didn’t try to impede Simona, he gave her every opportunity to make the pass short of just slamming on the brakes to let her by.  EJ drove a very wide line down the frontstraight and gave Simona all the room she needed on the inside entering turn one.  The fact is that Simona simply was not close enough to complete the pass.  In desperation, she was forced to drive way too deep into the corner, and she wasn’t able to make the pass stick.  EJ never pinched her down into a low line.  He never blocked her in any way.  He didn’t use the overtake button in an attempt to keep Simona behind him.  Again, Simona simply wasn’t close enough to successfully complete the pass.  Does Steph really believe that Viso should have to park his car so that Simona has a free pass to get by simply because Kanaan had already gotten past him and she was within the vicinity of EJ?  Tradition and gentleman’s agreement or not, that line of reasoning just doesn’t cut it for me.  A backmarker should race all competitors equally, whether it is against the leader, the second place driver, or the 15th-place driver — either race them all or let them all go by.  Don’t race different positions in different manners.  Anything less penalizes the leader for winning and creates an artificial benefit to all other drivers who are, quite frankly, losing.  (I might remind you that tradition and a gentleman’s agreement in NASCAR was the basis for the Lucky Dog rule.  Just sayin’…)

In reality, the situation didn’t particularly affect the outcome of the race because Simona admitted afterward she was not pushing particularly hard to actually pass Kanaan.  Unless TK missed a gear or really overdrove a corner leaving a clear and very safe opportunity, Simona was content to bring the car home in fourth position and roll all four wheels onto the transporter after the race.  Nonetheless, the situation will arise again and Steph will again present her flawed logic at some point down the road.  If we are going to call for rules that preserve the integrity of the racing, then it’s imperative that the actions of the drivers on track do likewise.  Pulling over and just letting a car go by you in an unnatural way doesn’t preserve the race’s integrity, regardless of what tradition might suggest.

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