Verizon IndyCar Series fans were left shaking their heads after a pit road cut by Simon Pagenaud allowed him to win Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and after the race both Pagenaud and IndyCar Race Control issued statements in defense of the No. 22 and the league’s decision to issue its team a warning rather than a penalty.
At the post-race press conference, Pagenaud told assembled media members including IndyCar Examiner that he had not been informed his pit exit, in which he crossed the line between pit road and the racetrack early, was under review. But he remained confident in the move.
“I actually didn’t know. Nobody mentioned it,” he said. “[Team strategist] Kyle [Moyer] didn’t tell me on the radio. I really honestly didn’t know it was that close.”
“I wouldn’t have changed anything honestly,” Pagenaud continued, going on to explain, “It was certainly on the verge of being a stronger penalty, but I did get a warning. I only did it once in the race. Same for [Carlos] Munoz. Munoz did the same thing, so I guess it was a clear understanding for Race Control.”
“Going into the race, I know the rule book,” he added, “so I know that that line, I know you can take risks. I know you can get on the limit. It’s just racing at the end of the day, and quite frankly, like I said, another inch to the right wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the race.”
He’s wrong about that part, at least if one looks at the numbers. The decision allowed Pagenaud to rejoin the racetrack just ahead of second-place driver Scott Dixon, enabling him to stay in front of Dixon for the remainder of the event.
Pagenaud won in the closest finish in Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach history – 0.3032 of a second – which made the choice not to penalize him even more of a debacle.
Shortly after the race concluded on Sunday afternoon, IndyCar issued an official statement standing behind Race Control’s decision not to assess Pagenaud a penalty. Below is that statement quoted in full:
Simon Pagenaud’s actions during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach were deemed an infraction per Rule 220.127.116.11. “Lane Usage” of the IndyCar Penalty Guidelines: Failing to follow designated procedures entering or exiting the pit area, including the proper use of the acceleration and deceleration lanes.
The penalty for this infraction ranges from a warning (minimum), putting the driver to the back of the field (mid) and drive-through or stop and go/hold (maximum).
IndyCar race stewards determined his actions were not severe enough to warrant a harsher penalty than the warning that was issued.
In February the league announced a new three-person panel of race stewards consisting of former drivers Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk and former Ford executive Dan Davis. The trio are supervised by another recent hire, Jay Frye, who was promoted from IndyCar CFO to President of Competition and Operations last fall after the resignation of Derrick Walker.
Sunday’s results certainly won’t make race fans think that the new stewards’ panel has solved IndyCar’s officiating problem. It’s the second situation in as many seasons where there has been a clear infraction that television broadcasts have been able to catch yet Race Control has not done anything about.
At last year’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, Graham Rahal’s No. 15 left the pits with a fuel nozzle still attached but Race Control claimed it didn’t see the equipment, even though it subsequently fell off the car and caused a caution flag to be thrown. Rahal went on to narrowly defeat Tony Kanaan and win the race.
The victory extends Pagenaud’s championship lead to 14 points over Dixon with 13 events left to go in the 2016 season.
For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.