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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League, MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Brian Barnhart
Al Unser Jr.
August 14, 2011


THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Brian Barnhart, President of Competition Operations for IndyCar, and Al Unser, Jr., driver member in Race Control.
Brian, Al, could you walk us through the process today with the decision with the race and also the decision on the finishing.
BRIAN BARNHART: Where to start? It's obviously a challenging day for us out there from the get-go with the late start, scheduled with the television windows and where we are at, knowing we had weather coming in, adjusting the start time to begin with was the first step.
But it followed through with some of the more difficult calls you ever have to make from a Race Control point of view. And that's when you get indecisiveness in terms of what the weather is doing on the racetrack and whether you have a safe condition to continue racing on the racetrack.
It would be one thing if it rained hard, your decision's a pretty easy one to make. But when you get calls from track safety and observer posts around the racetrack that report light moisture, the tough decision is to make that call whether you continue with the event or not. That's been the most difficult and challenging thing, because no matter what, our number one priority in every decision we make is safety.
And when you're responsible for the safety of those 26 drivers out there, every time you go and give them a track condition, they're counting on you to make the right decision. Obviously towards the end of that race, with the attempted restart, we made the wrong one. And that's one of those things that just makes you feel sick to your stomach, when you do it, because you know after the fact, of course, that you chose poorly.
And more often than not we certainly make the right calls, but, like I said, when you kind of get those in-between moisture calls out there and we had, based on the information that was given to us that the track was in a position to go, we're trying to do -- we actually had done something prior to that restart.
It was the first time we had done it. We moved all the lead lap cars up to the front so that we had the lap traffic out of the way trying to do the double file restart with the lap traffic in the back and give everybody a real good shoot-out and a green flag finish. Obviously you want to make the effort that you can for the fans on television and the ones that are in the grandstands here, but you can't do that at the expense of safety.
And, like I said, as soon as you had the guys stand on the gas out there you saw right away it was the wrong decision to make. At that point in time you are just kind of sick to your stomach and realize it was an error on race control standpoint, and clearly my fault.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. Brian, to that point, when you made that call, had there been any objections over the decision to go green from anybody in the pits?
BRIAN BARNHART: No, we hadn't received anything from pit tech guys. The pit techs are assigned, they get two cars within the pits.
Up in Race Control we never had a single call from a pit tech. Now we also have observers, or we also have spotters and officials up on the roof. And the official up on the roof had called that there was light moisture up there and some of the spotters had said they think it's too wet to continue.
But we had not received any objections from any of the pit techs, from any that were assigned to the cars on the racetrack saying the driver of the 59 or the driver of the 5 or the driver of the 7 vehemently objects and says it's too wet to go.
We didn't have anybody saying that. So combined with a lack of information from people saying we shouldn't go, combined with all of our track safety people saying we should go and all the observers around say the track is still raceable and going, you make the decision based on that information.
And, like I say, clearly it was the wrong one to make.

Q. Seemed like everyone, though -- there was some unanimity on pit roads. Everyone was objecting at that point. And we had some owners come out and make some strong statements to that effect. But just to clarify, those objections, are they made from the pit box to the pit tech, then to you?
BRIAN BARNHART: Correct. And, like I say, up in Race Control we hadn't had it. In fact, we got Johnny Rutherford out there driving around in the pace car. And Johnny at that point in time hadn't relayed either that it was a bad decision to go at that point in time.
So it's a fine line. I mean, I have so much respect for the people that work for us, the observers that are on the racetrack and the track safety guys and everybody out there. I think Ryan said it best, Ryan Hunter-Reay, when he was talking on one of the TV interviews. I don't think people really understand how little water it takes or how little moisture it takes to have an adverse effect on the ability of these cars to perform.
It's one of those things, when it's a tweener, when it's not raining and it's not dry, it doesn't take a lot to get them to haze the tires, get wheel spin, with the stagger, turn them around.
You look how far out of the corner Danica was and going straight, it shouldn't be in a position, when you put the power down, that you lose control.
As soon as you make that call and see that result, you realize that it wasn't a good one.

Q. Brian, Will Power had a pretty monumental melt-down and with some gestures toward Race Control. Obviously is that something you're going to review and can we expect to see any type of punishment?
BRIAN BARNHART: Obviously we'll review it. It's secondary in my opinion to what happened out there. As I said earlier, when you're sitting in the position that I'm in, and you feel responsible for the safety of 26 competitors out there, first and foremost, when you make a decision, they're trusting you to make the right decision.
And when you've made the wrong one and it exposes them to a safety risk factor, no one feels worse about it than I do. Secondary to that comes the fact that you tore up some race cars and spent some money that you shouldn't have done. Clearly anytime you've wrecked a race car, then you've exposed the driver of that car to a health and safety risk. And when it's an unnecessary one you feel like crap.
I don't think people really understand how you feel from a Race Control point of view when you are charged with the responsibility and entrusted by these guys that I'm telling you it's good to go, it's good to go. Conversely, when you're up in an enclosed room, glass in there, you're not outside, you don't know, you're counting on information from other people, it can kind of put you in a Catch-22 position, and you're counting on a lot of information.
I have great trust and respect for the people that we have out there. It's just one of those situations that bit us in the end there. And when you look at the adrenalin going, the fact that a decision I made in Race Control risked their safety, they're not going to be very happy about it. Their adrenaline is flying.
And on top of that tearing up race cars. And on top of that what it did to his finish position in points, the adrenaline is going. But that being said, there's always going to be an expectation and a level of professionalism that should be adhered to. I think priority one for us is to admit our mistake and do the right thing with regard to the finishing order and then make sure everybody's safe from that point of view and then we'll deal with any emotional responses afterwards.

Q. Al, as a former competitor, can you put yourself in Will's place, anytime in your career where you were that angry?
AL UNDER, JR.: No, I don't think I can, actually. There was Wally Dallenbach was my chief steward. And there was some times there that Race Control in Cart that made the wrong decisions and so on. But I happened to not be on the racetrack at that time.
So there was -- I remember a call made by them at Sanair, they did a green checkered at the same time and that went into a courtroom. That was decided later on.
So I'm learning as we go along how difficult it is up in Race Control. Especially with what Brian was saying about the moisture that we had today was not rain, it was sprinkling. It was misting. We had several tough decisions up there that we had to call, and that was calling the yellow for moisture. And we did that twice today. And the moisture had been accumulating for quite some time.
And so I tell you I don't know how many times I ran outside to see how the moisture was, because Brian's asking around the track, you know, of the observers and he's asking me to go outside. And I went up on the roof. And I went out back several times to figure out, you know, has enough moisture fallen to shut it down, because it was coming and going and that sort of thing. So it was a tough decision, tough call, especially the last one we were getting information that it was good to go.
Like Brian said, obviously when the cars stood on the gas, I went outside and I saw the water, but it wasn't any more than what we had been running prior.
We couldn't tell, like Brian said, until the cars stood on the gas, and then obviously we had made the wrong decision and it hurts us.

Q. The drivers were pretty adamant in that they were screaming into their own radios. Do you have access to that information? Can you hear what they're saying?
BRIAN BARNHART: No. They're talking back to their team managers or their strategist back in the pits and they would have to relay that to the pit tech and pit tech would have to relay it up to Race Control. That's the process that never got to us. We never had a single pit tech call and say the driver of car X doesn't think we should go.
If we would have had that -- hindsight is always 20/20. It's clearly, like I say, a situation that, if you had to do it all over again, we certainly would have.
The hard part about it is, like I said, you were battling it all day long. You really got a situation where you're going to have a great shootout coming down here, we moved all the lead lap traffic up to the front. The double file restarts had been good and exciting all day long. We had a chance for a really good finish out there, and you're going to try and give the fans an opportunity to do that.
Conversely, our option was, when it started sprinkling there at the end of it -- again, because most people don't understand and realize how little water it takes to upset the ability of the cars to perform -- we could have tooled around behind the pace car and just thrown the checkered and the yellow at the same time at 225 and we would have made a lot of fans angry in the race grandstands.
You feel an obligation to try and do what they're here to see and that's to watch the race. And when they're sitting in there -- most of them don't even have umbrellas up, it's not raining hard enough to do that.
So if you would have tooled around behind the pace car and ran the out the laps to 225, we probably would have had Jerry sitting in here and he's expecting us to put on a show and the fans are expecting us to put on a show. And based on the information we had, we were going to try and put on a show for them.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong way to do that. And that's where you gotta try and balance trying to do the right thing to entertain people and do what you're here to do.
On the other hand, it's your obligation to make sure you've got a safe racetrack to give the guys to go out there. And chose poorly today. And Al can say what he wants, but it was my call.

Q. Take us through the decision and the precedent, or maybe explain the precedent for just wiping off those five laps and going back before the restart.
BRIAN BARNHART: I don't know if there's a precedent. I think it's a good thing because we haven't made that many mistakes or those blatant ones, I guess, maybe to that level. To me it was so obvious. You're in a position where from a rule book standpoint you count the yellow laps unless otherwise stated.
But to me the logic behind it was that it's the right thing. And you ended up jeopardizing drivers, tearing up equipment and trying to shove a square peg in a round hole and doing something that you shouldn't have done, and that's restart on an oval in unsafe conditions.
And that wasn't their fault. That was mine. So the right thing to do was to go back and not jeopardize them or go back and affect their standings in the race result for the championship, go back to where the last stop was run before my mistake was made.

Q. We've heard from some of the drivers. What was the feedback from the team owners on that decision to go back? Have you talked to any of them?
BRIAN BARNHART: I guess that's a pretty easy one. I guess if they benefited from it they're going to support it. If they didn't, they're going to think it was the wrong call.

Q. Brian, given the fact that there was numerous objections up and down pit road that didn't make it to you, would it have taken just one for you to decide not to go, or did you need to have more of a consensus in order to make that decision?
BRIAN BARNHART: You'd probably go more of a consensus on it. You know, it's one of those hard things as well, you're going to weed out -- the first one probably would have come from Ryan driving the 28 car, he probably would have said absolutely no way if it was perfectly dry. These guys are going to want to try -- so you've got to kind of weed out and go to the mid-pack people and find out what their thoughts are at that point in time.
The hard part about it, guys, we were frankly running out of laps. If you spent a lot of time trying to switch radio channels and talk to a bunch of people, you're counting laps in a hurry. We've got a pace car out there, we have track safety, we've got observers. And we trust and count on them. They made the decision that they thought was in the best interest as well.
Like I say, I fully support, and I'll make those decisions in the future based on their input, because that's all I have up in Race Control. And there's a thousand times they've made these calls, and they're right 99.9 percent of the time. And that was just a tough situation out there at the end of the race today.

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