If there was one complaint about the Baltimore Grand Prix from IndyCar drivers Sunday, it was that the course could have used one more area where it was feasible to pass. The course was set up so that drivers had to be patient, and most of them were. But the one time a driver tried to press the issue, the result was chaos.
On Lap 37, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe were coming around the tightest turn on the course — No. 3, which asked drivers to make a 180-degree change of direction on Light Street — when Briscoe tried to slip inside Hunter-Reay's car. Briscoe's front left tire clipped Hunter-Reay's right side, and both cars spun out, blocking nearly the entire track.
Because Hunter-Reay and Briscoe were in the middle of the pack, and because the incident occurred on the tightest spot on the course, it caused a calamitous bottleneck. Much of the field came to a dead stop, and tempers flared a bit when officials decided to keep the field under caution for the next 11 laps while they sorted out the mess.
Briscoe was penalized for "avoidable contact" and sent to the back of the field, something he had no problem with, but he said he felt Hunter-Reay was blocking him from moving up.
"He was blocking me, and then he opened back up," Briscoe said. "He changed lanes twice. It's disappointing, and I'm sorry about the pile-up. But obviously they gave me the penalty based on what they thought happened in the race. My front did hit his rear, but it was circumstantial. It's a really tough penalty, and it ruined our race. But I'm not in the running for the championship, and penalties are rarely given out to guys who are running for the championship."
Hunter-Reay, not surprisingly, saw things differently.
"If he watches the replay, he'll see there is completely a lane there," Hunter-Reay said. "I have Dario [Franchitti] in front of me, I'm showing my nose and Briscoe just took me out. It's a shame. We had a good run going. There were more than two car widths outside. If that's blocking, I don't know. He bent our suspension, too, which should have put us out of the race. [My crew] did a great job to fix our suspension, and we came out to finish eighth."
The real loser in the whole affair, however, might have been Graham Rahal, who had one of the fastest cars in the field Sunday. With his fuel strategy, Rahal figured, he was going to get a chance to cut into Will Power's big lead, but he became extremely frustrated that IndyCar officials kept the field under caution for as long as they did.
"The officiating was terrible, if you ask me," Rahal said. "Why did we stay yellow for so long? There was no cars on the track. There was nothing wrong. They were sitting there saying they need to figure out where [Mike Conway] belongs even though he's three laps down. We needed about 10-12 laps of hard running to pull the gap, and unfortunately, we didn't get it. I'm disappointed for my guys because Will and I were the class of the field. If you look at our lap times, we had everyone by half a second. It's a shame it didn't stay green, because we had something for them and it just didn't work out."
Rahal, who also struggled with a numb foot throughout the race, finished 10th. The pain was so severe, he couldn't even attempt to pass near the end of the race.
"It's a shame, because it's another week where we had all these guys beat, and it just didn't work out," Rahal said.
As unlucky as Rahal felt his Sunday was, Tony Kanaan had every right to feel that his day got off to an even worse start. During a morning practice session, his front and rear brakes failed, and to avoid going into the wall at 150 mph, he had to had to try and slow his car down by intentionally clipping the car of his friend Helio Castroneves.
"He saved my life, and I'm going to owe him for a long time," Kanaan said.
Sent to the back of the field with his backup car, Kanaan figured he had nothing to lose, and his luck changed in the middle of the race. During the big pile-up, he was able to slip through a gap and avoid the carnage.
"We got lucky with that, but I'll take it," Kanaan said.
With some careful driving the rest of the way, he surged to a third-place finish.
"I wouldn't have bet on myself today that I was going to finish third, I'll tell you that," Kanaan said.