Spring is in the air (except here in the northeast where winter just won't go away) and with it comes the start of many major racing championships. Series like IMSA and NASCAR have already stated but Sebastien Bourdais just stole victory in the IndyCar season opener and F1 is right around the corner.
The weekend could not have gone any better for rookie Robert Wickens. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver took a surprise pole position and was leading the race with just two laps remaining. The car had good pace and Wickens was poised to win his first IndyCar race in his first attendant. Then a late race caution happened and on the restart Alexander Rossi made a bold charge on Wickens' inside. The resulting contact sent Wickens into the wall and dropped Rossi back from second place.
The old adage "rubbin's racin" usually applies to cars with fenders. It is less a tactic in IndyCar where usually any contact has a detrimental effect to the car's aero or suspension. Needless to say both parties had very different views on the incident. Rossi, who was not penalized for the moved claimed Wickens turned in on him. Race control deemed the contact a "racing incident". Wickens viewed things slightly different.
“I let Alex get within a second of me, but he was never going to pass me [before the yellows]. He saw his opportunity, he tried, and in my opinion, it was probably a bit optimistic, but it happens. " Wickens said in a post race interview. “Honestly, I knew it wasn’t going to be over until it was over, but I just hate how the day ended. I expect more from Alex. I thought we would have had a good fight."
There are two schools of thought here, on the one hand you understand Wickens' point of view. He had the lead, he had position and Rossi made a borderline banzai move to the inside that resulted in neither driver taking home victory. “I thought I gave him enough space that actually would have held P1. I went very late on the brakes, and he tried to stay beside me, but the track is so dirty on the inside he couldn’t keep the line and just slid into me. I don’t know. Just super disappointed.” Wickens said.
The other viewpoint is that of Rossi, the mentality of going for victory at any cost. Ayrton Senna famously said, "If you no longer go for a gap which exists you are no longer a racing driver". Well Rossi saw a gap, went for the gap and it did not turn out as he expected. I am inclined to think Rossi was trying to bully the rookie a bit. Show his nose, get along side and the rookie, making his first IndyCar start would choose to yield. After all a second place finish in your first race combined with taking pole position in qualifying is a tremendous result. Wickens did not yield, he held his ground and we know how that turned out.
Who's to blame? Tough question because I think it was a close call. Could Rossi chosen to hold back and wait for a lower risk opportunity? Sure he could have, or he could have never gotten another chance. Could Wickens chose discretion is the better part of valor and gave Rossi more room? Again, yes but this is a kid with a very real chance to get his first victory. Not to mention, he had the lead he had the line, sure he gave Rossi a gap but all the drivers knew the inside of turn one was slippery at best. So it would have taken a very, very special piece of driving to make that pass stick, if the side by side pass was even possible.
At the end of the day the two drivers are friends off the track and Wickens sees no reason for that to change. The bigger thing is what sort of driving did IndyCar just declare acceptable. By not penalizing Rossi for his move IndyCar effectively just told the drivers to get aggressive with their late race pass attempts. I see the wick only being turned up from here. This is not the last late race banzai move we are going to see this season on road courses. This is either good because it will create more action and more on/off track drama. It can also be a bad thing as this is IndyCar, not NASCAR. If you want to see cars beatin' and bangin' on eachother go watch that. IndyCar is supposed to be more refined, more surgical and less of a street fight.
I'm not entirely sure where I stand. I want there to be more passing more action, but I also don't want to see IndyCar devolve into a smash and dash style of racing. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!