Driver James Hinchcliffe gets into his car on pit road to start… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
The controversy surrounding Sunday's pit road collision at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma between race leader Scott Dixon's car and a tire being carried by one of Will Power's crew members followed the IZOD IndyCar Series across the country from California to Maryland.
But with a rule change announced Friday, the controversy will likely not resurface in Baltimore on Sunday or, officials and drivers hope, any time soon.
In the case of the Grand Prix of Baltimore — and for the other three races remaining in the open-wheel season — pit box lines will be clearly drawn. The lines are bright yellow and are hard to miss.
IndyCar Series officials acted quickly after Sunday's incident, for which Dixon was assessed a drive-through penalty (an unplanned trip through pit road at a greatly reduced speed), which ultimately cost him a chance at his fourth win in five starts and could wind up costing him the overall 2013 series title.
Derrick Walker, who took over earlier this year as director of competition and championships for the IndyCar Series, said the decision was reached after reviewing tape of the collision that sent Power's tire changer and two other pit crew members flying through the air like bowling pins.
"We should have had some lines down there, a better defined pit box," Walker said Friday through an IndyCar Series spokeswoman. "We as officials can see where the cars are in relationship to where they should be in their pit box. It confused a lot of people [watching] on television because there were no lines."
Officials are introducing this week what is being called "courtesy area" where drivers will be able to leave or enter the pit area.
IndyCar also added a new rule regarding pit road conduct.
"Any participant who, in the opinion of the officials, positions a car, equipment, and/or personnel so as to create a hazard or disruption of the event or to interfere with the activities of another competitor may be penalized," the new rule stats.
"If you are leaving or entering a pit, providing the other team isn't in your way, you may be able to cut that box, you may be able to cut across that area," Walker said. "We also said so that nobody gets carried away, any team member should not impede even if he has a situation where he gets in the way of somebody doing a pit stop, he's going to get a penalty."
Walker said the first penalty would result in probation and the second would result in suspension "for as many as three races and maybe even a fine."
Walker added that he doesn't want "tit for tat, these guys risking their life and limb to stop somebody from having a good pit stop." Walker said the lines are "just reference points where they should or shouldn't be. They are not hard and fast lines that if you cross those lines we're going to penalize you. If something happens, we're going to reference those lines where you relative to the incident."
Dixon and Chip Ganassi team manager Mike Hull had accused Power's tire changer, Travis Law, of purposely walking toward Dixon's car as he was pulling out of what turned out to be the last pit stop. Dixon, who was leading the race at the time, finished 15th. Instead of being only four points behind leader Helio Castroneves coming into Baltimore, Dixon trails by 39.
"It's unfortunate what happened, but I don't want to keep dwelling on it," Dixon said Friday. "I hope for the consistency for later on the year and for further on in races, it will help make decisions. As the rule book is, you can never have a penalty against a crew member. That was the frustrating part."
Dixon was penalized last year for an illegal restart that he said "was non-existent" and later changed the way officials view videos and sanction drivers for such restarts. "It [stinks] to be the guinea pig for that sort of thing," he said.
Irate to the point of spewing a well-placed expletive on national television right after Sunday's race ended, a much calmer Dixon said Friday, "I'm obviously not as angered. I'd probably take back some of the words I used. But still, I think the guy [Law] was incompetent, not paying attention, and we don't need that on pit lane. He's going to cause somebody else harm. I still feel he should be removed from pit lane or some kind of penalty inflicted on him."
Hull, who was as angry as his top driver after the race, said Friday that he was pleased that IndyCar officials took immediate action.
"The upshot of that is that it helps IndyCar make quality decisions going forward," Hull said. "So if there happens to be a question, they can more clearly define the answer for us. You can be on one side of the public opinion poll or the other. Some people have tried to make it us vs. IndyCar, IndyCar vs. Penske, Penske vs. Ganassi. In reality, it's not that at all."