Racing Lines Archive

0813 Racinglines 1


In any sport, officiating is a true black art. In racing, renown for its wealth of personalities on and off the track, officials have a wicked tough job. No matter what they do, usually someone will disagree.

Knowing when—and when not—to throw any flag, to issue a black, a red and even a checker goes to a Chief Steward. To reprimand drivers or to give them kudos, that, too is the job of top officials in the sport. That person (or people) must enforce the rules of the game and, in this one, there are plenty of variables.

In open wheel racing, everybody's made mistakes this year.

Formula One's decision to instate Giancarlo Fisichella's victory in Brazil, giving Jordan the win in its 200th entry, was smart, unlike some intra-team moves in recent years. At least the FIA did the proper remedy. This time.

From a strict "rules" standpoint, the Indy Racing League's removal of the Gen IV Chevy Indy V8 from Sam Hornish's Dallara after his runner-up finish in Michigan to place it in Buddy Rice's at Gateway is absolutely mind-boggling.

Okay, boys, now that we've given you this nice shiny toy, we're gonna let Buddy play with it for a while before you—and the rest of the Chevrolet teams—get supplies of engines in time for Kentucky.

Which is, oh, about five days after they finished with Gateway. Sheesh. Why not Sam and Buddy? From an engineering standpoint, that would have been a better shakedown for a power mill than two different drivers. The beavers at Cosworth Inc are working as hard as they can to make those Gen IV motors.

Now, then, when we speak of strict officiating, Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford has the corner on poor calls. This bunch of Keystone Flops has managed to mess up just about every race—of 13—held thus far in 2003.

Gone to "Race Control" is longtime flagman Jim Swintal; gone is the great Wally Dallenbach as chief steward. Chris Kneifel has been training as Wally's heir for a few years now. On and off.

When finally awarded the job as Chief Steward for what, the third or fourth time, Kneifel brought his own team to the party. Beaux Barfield is senior manager of competition and Tony Kester holds the post of CART steward.

All three of these guys have experience in racing, as recently as last year for Kneifel and Kester, but they've never run top-line open wheel racing, which means they are unqualified to judge the actions of top-line open wheel racers.

These three stooges have been running the Champ Car World Series like their own private elementary school playground and have included former Toyota Atlantic flagger J.D. Wilbur in their clique. Wilbur showed his lack of prowess at Portland this year, declining to throw green until the fourth time 'round.

What a group!

After the fiasco at Vancouver a few weeks ago, when outside front row starter Bruno Junqueira jumped prior to the start, it took this group of Mensa rejects 21 green flag laps to figure out that Junky needed to get behind pole man Paul Tracy.

Then when Mario Dominguez and Tiago Monteiro separately took out the balance of the Canadian entries at Vancouver—Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani—this same group slapped the two guilty men on the wrist the following week at Road America, placing them on a strange type of probation. If this wayward duo had any sort of problems while a lap or more down, they'd be punished, said CART's Stewards.

Those same Stewards should have punished themselves for behaving badly at Road America when they declined to permit professional race car drivers their opportunity to perform on a drying circuit, citing the awful Australian race last fall as criteria for stoppage.

Yes, the event at Surfers Paradise was a debacle, but Road America is vastly different from Surfers. The former has few walls; the latter is bounded by concrete and cement. The only similarity is that both are Champ Car venues.

This past weekend, Dominguez was not formally charged after nearly bunting off Adrian Fernandez at the start of the Champ Car Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio for oh, about the third or fourth time in the 2003 season. No penalty for his squeeze was imposed.

Later in the day, Monteiro blocked Dominguez and got a drive-through penalty. Yes, folks, there's nothing like consistency, is there?

Saturday morning at Mid-Ohio, CART issued a notice that claimed it was shuffling the steward lineup. They even changed the categories: race director, clerk of course and stewards.

CART's director of competition, Kneifel also assumes the post of race director. Swintal becomes clerk of the course and joins Barfield and Kester as race stewards. For qualifying and racing, John Anderson (senior manager of technology) moves from pit road to "race control" in order to keep things on an even keel, perhaps?

These modifications made no difference in the outcome at Mid-Ohio and, quite frankly, I don't think they're what CART really needs. Like the Indy Racing League and Formula One, they must have someone knowledgeable and forceful in charge. At this time they've got lots of chiefs but none truly capable of direction.

Yes, CART gets the brunt of criticism for its officiating, which has been poor, at best, this season. Should the company survive to race another day, the official word needs to come from a viable source, not a bunch of clowns like the ones they've got now.

—Anne Proffit

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