Castroneves' Indy win upheld

IRL officials reject protest by runner-up Tracy

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS -- The victory still stands. The debate is far from over.

Helio Castroneves' win in the Indianapolis 500 was upheld Monday by Indy Racing League officials who rejected a protest lodged by the team of runner-up Paul Tracy.

After a two-hour hearing at IRL offices and two hours of deliberations, league vice president of operations Brian Barnhart said there was no conclusive proof that Tracy had pulled ahead of Castroneves by the time the yellow flag came out on the 199th lap of Sunday's race.

''This was such an incredible set of circumstances,'' Barnhart said. But, he insisted, no new evidence surfaced to make him change his mind.

Barry Green, the owner of Tracy's car, has five days to lodge an appeal.

''I'm very disappointed, obviously,'' Tracy said Monday night after leaving the Victory Celebration banquet.

Castroneves, meanwhile, was enjoying the trappings of a champion. Joined by team owner Roger Penske, he spent 45 minutes posing with the Indy 500 trophy at a track photo shoot in the morning, then headed to the champion's dinner in the evening, after his victory had been upheld.

The disputed finish was sparked when Laurent Redon and Buddy Lazier crashed in Turn 2 on the second-to-last lap of the race. In IRL, racing ceases the moment the caution flag is waved.

A split second after the crash, Tracy passed Castroneves in Turn 3, but the dispute was about the precise moment the caution went into effect.

Tracy said he was ahead when he first learned of the yellow; Castroneves said he let up on the throttle when he saw yellow, which allowed Tracy to pass.

''When you run the series, you have the experience,'' Castroneves said. ''You just have to follow the rules.''

Castroneves is in his first season in the IRL, which sanctions the Indy 500. Tracy drives for the rival Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). On Sunday, Tracy suggested politics might play a role in this decision, but Barnhart dismissed that notion.

''Anyone who would look at how quick this decision had to be made would know the thought of IRL vs. CART can't remotely cross my mind,'' Barnhart said.

In the split second after the accident, race officials declared Castroneves was in the lead, and he drove the final 3-plus miles under a yellow flag to win his second straight Indy 500.

A review lasting 5 hours, 40 minutes ensued, and Barnhart certified Castroneves as the winner, ruling there was not enough evidence to overturn the result.

In Monday's review following the protest, Barnhart said he considered ''several'' videotape replays, along with data from the drivers' cars and statements from other drivers on the track, and came to the same conclusion.

''You really try so hard to make the right call in your heart, in your gut, and know exactly what is being done,'' Barnhart said.

His decision listed three points at which it was indisputable that Castroneves led Tracy:

--At the last time line of scoring before the caution.

--At the time of the accident.

--At the time race officials called for a caution.

Barnhart also said it was indisputable that Castroneves was leading when the yellow lights inside the cars turned on, signaling a caution.

He said there was no way to concretely tell who was leading when the yellow lights that line the track came on. He conceded that sometimes there's a split-second delay from the time the lights in the cars and those on the track illuminate.

One still photo taken from a TV replay appears to show Tracy in the lead before the yellow track light is on. But that wasn't conclusive, according to Barnhart, and the rest of the evidence was.

That didn't satisfy Green.

''If someone would show me some clear evidence we were second, I'd be OK with that,'' he said before the hearing.

Tracy and Green both attended the champion's dinner.

''It was a great race for everybody, it was a tremendous job by everybody in the room,'' Tracy said as he accepted the second-place award. ''... I think the race might still be ongoing. I don't know what could still happen in the future yet.''

It was a debate over what happened in the blink of an eye, and about the only sure conclusion is that no system in sports is foolproof, even one as meticulous as the caution system used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

''There are always human-reaction times,'' Barnhart said. ''But I think the system did work well.''

As was the case with the Olympic figure-skating scandal, a number of NFL replay calls and so many other tough decisions in sports, the finish will surely be debated for years.

Whether it sparks changes in the sport is still in question. Barnhart said the IRL combs through its rule book after each season, and didn't preclude the possibility of changing yellow-flag racing rules.

One remedy would be to give the lead to the driver who's ahead not at the moment the yellow flag comes out, but to the driver who led the last complete lap run under the green flag.

''But this was an incredible set of circumstances, such a long shot,'' Barnhart said. ''To make a rule for something that happens in rare instances can sometimes be worse than not.''

If Green appeals, it would put the final decision in the hands of IRL chief executive officer Tony George.

George could appoint a committee to help him comb through the evidence. IRL rules call for a hearing to be held within 30 days of the filing of the appeal, unless the appellant and George agree to a delay.

But these things have dragged out in the past. In 1981, when the U.S. Auto Club sanctioned the race, it took 4 1/2 months for Bobby Unser to be declared the official winner in a disputed finish against Mario Andretti.

Back then, Penske owned Unser's car and his appeal led to the restored victory. This time, Penske sees things from a much different angle.

''Well, obviously, I was glad they resolved it,'' he said. ''I thought the process was a good one. I'm sure glad it's over. It's unfortunate we have this kind of an end. Let's get on to the next race.''

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