CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This Indianapolis 500 already has plenty of drama: panic over the size of the field, engine shortages, legal wrangling and issues with underperforming Lotus. Toss in $275,000 in fines against 13 teams, and IndyCar has a real soap opera bubbling right before its biggest race.
But, really, is that anything new? IndyCar’s very existence began at a time of war for open-wheel racing, when a group of owners with one set of ideas split from CART in 1996 to join a startup series created by Tony George. Nothing has come easy since, in large part because the team owners typically can’t get out of their own way.
The team principals fight for power with the league, fight with each other over rules and generally search for just about anything to complain about. Unlike Formula One and NASCAR, which both succeed operating as virtual dictatorships, IndyCar has moved closer to the model that ultimately killed CART – the inmates trying to run the asylum.
“You are never happy with a racing association, they’ve all got problems,” A.J. Foyt said Monday. “I don’t care if it’s NASCAR or its SCCA, or whoever. Somebody is always going to be upset with something.”
One can’t help but wonder, though, if there’s been too much back-room politicking going on since Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened its gates May 10 to begin preparations for Sunday’s race. Almost every day since has had some sort of controversy and rumors have run rampant about everything from an alleged owner-led charge to oust CEO Randy Bernard and IndyCar supposedly blocking two teams from fielding cars on Sunday’s bump-less Bump Day.
Then came the long list of penalties – 18 – announced Sunday night, about 30 minutes after practice had concluded for a four-day off period.
Few teams were immune and the entire front row was docked $70,000 for five penalties split between pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe of Penske Racing, and Andretti Autosport teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
There was disappointment Sunday when no team owner threw together a last-minute entry to try to bump one of the Lotus cars out of the field. Both Jay Howard and Pippa Mann indicated they were close to putting together deals, but couldn’t get an engine. That led to rumors it was IndyCar who halted the Chevrolet engines to protect Lotus – an allegation series officials vehemently denied.
So from the outside, it sure looks like a mess for IndyCar. But new race director Beaux Bernard is fond of claiming “all press is good press,” and if drama gets fans to tune into Sunday’s race, then maybe IndyCar knows exactly what it is doing.