RACING

Romain Grosjean, Ross Chastain and the code

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We brought you here today, during this week when NASCAR and IndyCar are shut down and only Formula 1 is on the racing schedule. (Canadian GP, ​​Sunday, 2 p.m. ET; broadcast live on ABC) to discuss what has always been a hot topic among hot shoes, but has become a particularly hot topic in recent weeks in all forms of motorsport: self-checking on the circuit.

Drivers enforce codes of conduct via bumpers and retaining walls. Chrome horn justice. It’s been around forever, but exactly when is it okay for riders to take the discipline into their own gloves? And is it OK at all?

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“I don’t think it’s any different in motor racing than in any other sport where you see veterans lecturing young guys or champions reminding rookies of what’s okay and what’s not. “, explains Mario Andretti when asked about the administration of discipline on the racetrack. “What’s different is that in our sport someone can get hurt or die. The person you have to teach the lesson to has to remember that first and foremost, but so does the runner who decided he was going to be a You can’t fix something by making it worse.

Then the man who won in all three series adds: “But you can fix it. And sometimes you really have to fix it. Not this really, but who.”

There have been some high-profile who’s this season, starting with the IndyCar paddock.

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When Romain Grosjean arrived in the IndyCar series in 2021, he brought with him a somewhat prepackaged image. A reputation. Not the one you might be thinking of, the awe-inspiring, death-defying ‘Phoenix’ that emerged from a crash during the 2020 Bahrain F1 GP, emerging from a creepy hellhole and looking just like Hugh Jackman in that Wolverine movie that everyone hates.

No, we mean the reputation it had earned long before that day for being, shall we say, hard to top without some sort of problem. Specifically, a somewhat unpredictable driving pattern and resultant inevitable contact for those trying to get around the Swiss-born driver on the circuit. He has previously been described by F1 competitor Mark Webber as a “first lap madman”.

It was this notoriety that made his new rivals in the United States think twice when he moved from F1 to IndyCar. It’s a recognition report that clearly influenced Graham Rahal’s words six weeks ago at Barber Motorsports Park. After an altercation with Grosjean, the son of three-time Indy champion Bobby started boiling.

“I knew Romain was going to dive-bomb me because I had already been warned that was what he was doing,” Rahal said, referring to calls for caution he received from the pilot corps. of F1 and the other competitors after Grosjean’s other incidents this season, in particular at Barber and Saint Petersburg. Then he turned his comments to promises to send a future message through his racing machine. “If race control does not want [penalize Grosjean], then they will do nothing. But when we go to hit him, they better not do anything to me. … I think the drivers need to come together, all of us, because I’m not the only one with a problem.”

A month later, when the NASCAR Cup Series held its inaugural event in St. Louis, Ross Chastain was so embarrassed on the tight, egg-shaped 1.25-mile oval that he drew the ire of not d one but two future surefire NASCAR Halls. of the Famers. Denny Hamlin, livid from being hit against the wall by Chastain, swerved to block him almost in the backfield. Then Chase Elliott, having also been turned by Chastain, tried to wreck him more than once on the same lap, while Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson shouted over the radio to stop the car. ° 1 in the fence.

After the race, Chastain bluntly asked for forgiveness while Hamlin said: “There seemed to be no sense of conscience there that was saying, ‘Maybe I’m getting a little aggressive. It is his decision to make. He can make all the decisions he wants. He’s his own guy. … He’s done very well at what he does, but at the end of the day sport is self-control. When you least expect it and when it means the most is when it happens.”

That didn’t happen for Chastain last Sunday at the Sonoma Raceway road course. Nor for Grosjean. Still.

Rahal and Grosjean spoke privately after their incident with Barber. During Indy 500 week, Grosjean seemed to believe his issue with Rahal was resolved, but Rahal said their conversation was little more than Grosjean telling him we hadn’t been driving in F1 for 10 years. “unless you’re on top”. level” and recalled that he was far from the only driver to have been eliminated from a race this season because of contact with the former Haas F1 driver.

Meanwhile, Chastain said he had “spoken to all parties involved” and it was “a good conversation”, but added cryptically: “Whatever happens, happens”. That certainly sounds like a lot of “for now”. It’s just a matter of when, where and how it happens.

Will it be with a bumper or a nose cone somewhere down the road when, as Hamlin said, it matters most? See: Phoenix 2012, the penultimate race of the NASCAR Cup season, when Jeff Gordon transformed into Clint Bowyer in the final laps to prevent him from advancing to the championship final. Why? To avenge an altercation with Bowyer in Martinsville eight months ago.

Or will it be in a closed-door meeting of drivers, with the room ganging up on the problem child? See: Talladega 1991, when Ernie Irvan was so out of control he was cornered and chewed on by so many drivers and team owners that he stood up at the pre-race drivers meeting and apologized. Most of the room applauded “Swervin’ Irvan’s” speech. Others refused to show praise until he actually earned it – ahem, Rusty Wallace.

See also: The countless number of overly honest F1 driver meetings when drivers angrily talk about their colleagues’ questionable moves as if the offending party isn’t there in the room.

“The nature of our cars doesn’t lend itself to a lot of physical on-track lessons, certainly not like NASCAR or V8 Supercars back home in Australia,” McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo explained at the Miami GP weekend. He grew up a big fan of the ultimate track stock car disciplinarian, Dale Earnhardt, who always credited Richard Petty’s licks with putting him in his place as a reckless rookie. “That leaves our drivers’ meetings in F1 as a place to air grievances. You just pray you’re not the guy they’re looking for, because when they do, they’ll cross that line from polite to awkwardly uncomfortable very quickly.”

“That’s what you have to decide: where is the line that has to be crossed to make you decide, ‘OK, this has to be done now’, and then what line are you willing to cross to make your point? ” Kevin Harvick explained earlier this season. Last fall, he knocked Elliott down on the Charlotte roval to score one of those runs, after Elliott held him down and kept him from advancing in the playoffs.

“Sometimes life teaches you good lessons,” Harvick said that day. Now he adds context to this lesson teaching. “You don’t go out there to hurt a guy. You go out to hurt his day. Again, know where the lines are that can and can’t be crossed.”

That day in Charlotte, NASCAR determined that Harvick and Elliott had indeed crossed one of the wrong lines and called the two former champions to the mat to tell them.

“What NASCAR does is they take the position that they’re trying to allow competitors to compete,” Gustafson later recalled of the incident. “They want the competitors to be able to determine the outcome of the races, let the competitors deal with it themselves. I think that’s the way it should be, but the message that NASCAR delivered was, ‘We tried to do the best job we could to let you sort that out on the trail, but it was too far. Basically, they told us they were done.”

Self-policing police.

“We all know where that line is, at least we should,” said two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. He was sometimes one of Grosjean’s sharpest critics. “But it can’t be Mad Max. It’s a bunch of runners who all depend on each other to run hard but also to run smart. Run safe. That’s really what this is all about.

“And there’s not a single rider at those levels who hasn’t had a veteran’s word because he did something stupid. The bottom line has to be you don’t do that stupid thing again. That’s when you’ll get the carts circling around you.”

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