News & Multimedia

A Few Words About Team Orders

I was surprised that Penske Racing didn’t appear to impose any kind of team orders near the finish of last weekend’s GoPro IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma. With Ryan Briscoe leading the race and championship leader Will Power running second late in the race, swapping places in an attempt to boost Power’s points lead seemed like a no-brainer.

I suspect Penske probably actually had a plan in motion to let Power win the race, but a couple of things happened. First Power’s push-to-pass overtake feature malfunctioned. When Power tried to get an extra boost of power, his pit lane speed limiter instead cut in. You could clearly see that Power was losing ground to Briscoe – and more importantly, to the third-place car of Dario Franchitti – exiting the slow corners.

What made it look like Penske was trying to orchestrate a Power victory was the way Briscoe would pull away to a one-second gap when Power had his problems accelerating, but then he would suddenly drift back to within striking distance of Power – and Franchitti.

And that’s ultimately why Penske wasn’t able to pull off the old switcheroo – Franchitti was right on Power’s gearbox, and the slightest hesitation from either of the Penske drivers would have handed an unlikely victory to their Ganassi Racing rival. A safe-1-2 finish, even without maximizing Power’s points haul, was far preferable to a botched attempt at reversing the drivers’ positions.

After the race, I commented to the effect that I hoped the lack of team orders didn’t cost Power the championship, and I referenced something that happened at the Grand Prix of Houston back in 1999.

Like Sonoma, Houston was the third-to-last race of the season, and the CART championship was far from decided. At Houston, point leader Juan Pablo Montoya was knocked out of the race in an early accident. Meanwhile, his chief competitor, Franchitti, was delayed by an early incident of his own, but he fought back through the field to run second behind his Team Green teammate, Paul Tracy.

Like Briscoe in 2012, Tracy wasn’t in championship contention, but his teammate was. Team owner Barry Green toyed with the idea of asking Tracy to let Franchitti through for the win and maximum points, but the call never came. The Green cars crossed the line with Tracy ahead of Franchitti.

Almost inevitably, Franchitti lost the championship by less than the four points he would have gained by winning that race. Green never second-guessed himself, maintaining to this day that Franchitti lost the 1999 championship somewhere other than Houston. Dario crashed out of a couple races, for example, and a slow pit stop during the final race dropped him to a 10th-place finish, which, combined with Montoya’s fourth place in the same race, left them tied atop the standings. Montoya earned the title on a tiebreaker, with seven race wins during the season compared to Franchitti’s three.

A loyal and passionate Montoya fan took to Twitter to remind me (over the course of a seven-tweet tirade) that Montoya pretty much dominated the 1999 season and could or should have won far more than the seven races in which he triumphed.

Despite winning less often, Franchitti was far more consistent over the course of the 20-race campaign, with half as many finishes outside the top 10 as Montoya. And using the scoring system in place at the time, the two men ended up absolutely level on points with 212 apiece. So while my Twitter friend is correct in pointing out that Montoya statistically dominated the season, he still ended up with the same number of points as a guy who won less than half as many races.

To me, that’s what made the Houston situation – and by extension, Sonoma 2012 – the most obvious way the outcome of the championship could have been changed. They were both circumstances in which a team could have done something planned and premeditated to help their driver in the quest for a title.

You can’t change what happens when an engine blows up or another driver accidentally bumps someone off the track – like what happened to Montoya at Houston in 1999, when he was taken out by Helio Castroneves. Or to Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was running a solid third last week at Sonoma when he was punted out of the race by Alex Tagliani.

The difference between third place and 18th – where RHR finished at Sonoma – is 23 points. That’s more than two-thirds of the 36-point deficit to Power that Hunter-Reay must overcome in the final two races of the season.

Imagine the mindset of going into those races with a 13-point gap to overcome instead of 36 points. That championship crown would look a lot closer.

On the other hand, think about how Power’s outlook would differ if he had come away from Sonoma with 46 points in hand, instead of 36. Power will clinch the IZOD IndyCar Series title this weekend if he leaves Baltimore with a 54-point cushion, but those 10 points he potentially lost at Sonoma could loom large.

Excluding the 2011 season, which ended with the cancellation of the final race, the IndyCar title has been decided by an average of 9.2 points since 2006.

Think those 10 points Power potentially lost at Sonoma mean something? And do you think Penske Racing will second-guess itself for not imposing team owners at Sonoma if Power somehow loses the title by less than 10 points?
 

Show More Show Less
Now Viewing
A Few Words About Team Orders
 
A Few Words About Team Orders
I was surprised that Penske Racing didn’t appear to impose any kind of team orders near the finish of last weekend’s GoPro IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma. With Ryan Briscoe leading the race and championship leader Will Power running second late in the race, swapping places in an attempt to boost Power’s points lead seemed like a no-brainer.
Read More
Related Media
Justin Wilson
 
Justin Wilson 1978-2015
INDYCAR announced that driver Justin Wilson, who enjoyed success in multiple motorsports series during a two-decade professional career, died today from a head injury suffered in the Verizon IndyCar Series race Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway. He was 37.
Read More
Justin Wilson
 
IMS Statement Regarding Justin Wilson
A statement from Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles about the passing of Indianapolis 500 and United States Grand Prix veteran Justin Wilson:
Read More
Scott Dixon
 
Pruett's Preview: Going For It at Pocono
Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon sits third in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. The three-time title winner is accustomed to being at the sharp end of the standings with the season drawing to a close, and with this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono’s tri-oval offering a chance to move up to first or second in points, the New Zealander says his game plan is incredibly simple.
Read More
Marco Andretti
 
Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Take Test Laps, Look Ahead to 100th Indy 500
On Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a half-dozen Verizon IndyCar Series drivers took part in a test on the 2.5-mile oval. Some were specifically testing Firestone tires while others were testing for their own teams.
Read More
Tony Kanaan
 
IndyCar Veterans Slated to Test at IMS on Wednesday, Aug. 12
The 9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET session will incorporate a Firestone tire test to be conducted with Marco Andretti in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet, along with four drivers participating in team testing on the 2.5-mile oval.
Read More
Items 1 - 5 of 1,014
Reserve one of our hospitality suites for your next event!
To start planning your event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway please fill out our Information Request Form or contact Laura Wyamn at (317) 492-8557 or email at lwyman@brickyard.com.
Latest Tweets
Do you have a question for IMS Historian Donald Davidson? Ask via Twitter with the hashtag #AskDonald or on Facebook.
about 9 hours ago