Rob Edwards, Andretti Autosport COO and strategist for Alexander Rossi believes the penalty that effectively ended his driver’s chances of Indy 500 glory last Sunday was not deserved and also too harsh.
Edwards admitted on Monday evening he was still feeling “pretty sore” about the general underperformance of Andretti Autosport-Honda in the 104th running of the iconic race, especially after looking so strong in qualifying.
In particular he was unhappy with IndyCar’s punishment for the team’s leading runner on the day, Rossi, which saw him sent to the back of the pack for an unsafe release on pitroad.
Rossi, who had started the race from ninth on the grid, rose to second just before quarter distance and at half distance he started exchanging the lead back and forth with Scott Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda. The pair were working together, taking it in turns to run second and save fuel in each other’s slipstream, while still easing away from their nearest pursuers – first the Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward and then eventual winner Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda.
However on Lap 122 the field came under caution for Alex Palou’s crash, and once pitlane opened on Lap 124, a total of 23 cars hit pitlane. Rossi emerged from his pitbox into the path of Sato – who was pitted two boxes behind Rossi – and the pair made contact. IndyCar Race Control punished the Andretti Autosport #27 team for an unsafe release, and decreed he should restart the race from the rear of the field.
The 2016 Indy winner was left bitterly disappointed following his crash 14 laps after the race went back to green, and once he’d been checked and released from the IMS infield care center, Rossi said his car was not set up to be running so deep in the pack, he failed to understand the nature of the penalty and he believed he had the car to win.
Edwards told Motorsport.com: “I do believe that any contact in pitlane, for the safety of all the pitcrew members, needs to be taken extremely seriously. But as I said to Race Control when I went to see them afterward, the thing that gets missed is that at the point at which Alex is motioned out, the lane was clear – but there are delays.
“There’s a delay between when the driver is sent to when he starts to move; then when he starts to move, what first gear he’s got will define how quickly he accelerates. And if Alex’s front wheel had touched Takuma’s rear wheel I’d feel one way about it, but since Takuma’s front wheel touched our rear wheel, I feel another way about it.
“Then, even if you accept that OK, there was an issue, something that needed to be punished, if you look at the penalty guidelines, for contact in pitlane there are punishments A, B and C depending on severity. A is to give up a position, B is restart from the back of the field, and C is a drive-through penalty. And with the understanding of those points I just mentioned – the timeline – I feel that if Race Control had to do anything, then making us drop behind Sato for the restart would have been a more appropriate penalty. The way the cars are now, when you’re put to the back of the pack, you can’t do anything significant.”
At the tail end of the lead lap, Rossi was classified 21st for the Lap 131 restart and although he briefly made spectacular progress and climbed to 17th, he then remained mired there and ultimately understeered into the Turn 2 wall on Lap 144.
On the subject of whether he felt the stewards had not grasped the severity of their penalty to Rossi, Edwards replied: “You know, I actually think it’s great that we have stewards who were drivers, but should there be more balance among the stewards, not just seeing it from a driving point of view? I don’t know. But I respectfully disagree with their decision on this occasion, and they know that.
“At the end of the day, I can’t change it. But on the pitbox, we have no ability to argue or discuss matters with Race Control at the time. They warn you when they’re reviewing incidents and then they pass a judgment. To me, that’s the unfortunate part of the current system: we have zero ability to have any discussion about it or provide any additional input, thoughts or whatever else.”
Asked if he had seen a better stewarding system in U.S. open-wheel over the 28 years he has been involved, Edwards replied: “I think it’s hard to say ‘better’. Because I think generally Race Control do an awesome job these days: it’s night and day compared with how it used to be.
“But there are certain decisions that can be black-’n’-white because of a timing line or whatever, and there are other things that are subjective, and any time there’s a decision to be made with subjective reasoning, it’s always going to be open to different interpretations and points of view, right?
“Anyway, like I say, there’s nothing we can do to change what’s happened, so we move on. That’s the beauty of racing, isn’t it? The extreme highs and the lows. Painful end to last weekend – but the good news is we have a couple of races this weekend.”