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Wednesday, July 3, 2002
Rules prevent overturning call

By Jack Arute

Jack Arute It's over. Helio Castroneves is the "official" winner of the 86th Indianapolis 500. Paul Tracy becomes another footnote in the long history of drivers who "woulda-coulda-shoulda" won an Indy 500.

Tony George, president of the Indianapolis 500 and final adjudicator of the issue, denied Tracy and Team Green's appeal based on two important points. The first was the necessity of officials making split-second judgement calls. The second, and most telling, was Rule 11.2 of the 2002 Indy Racing League rule book.

This rule details decisions whether a car passed another car during a caution period or any matter which involves the exercise of judgment by the officials during an event "may not be protested or appealed and the decision of the officials is final and binding."

This rule should have allowed the IRL to stop the appeal process before it ever started.

"Given the circumstances and the fact that the 500 is the largest single day sporting event in the world, I felt that it was important to allow the process to be played out," George said. "Given the fact that Brian (Barnhart, the IRL's operations vice president and Indy 500 chief steward) made the decision, I felt that it was important to continue with the appeal."

George added that if the evidence presented by Team Green was convincing, Rule 11.2 would still have precluded a reversal.

"If the evidence that was reviewed, if he (Barnhart) would have called the race the other way, I would have had to stand by the rule the way it was written and stand by Brian."

So take all of the grainy film, the telemetry and the data and forget it. The crux of the issue was and still is the need for split-second judgement when a track goes from green flag conditions to a caution.

Racing has always operated with a certain amount of judgement. In fact, during this year's Indy 500 a judgement call was made by race control to stay green when Bruno Junqueira's gearbox failed. Tony Kanaan crashed moments later while leading the race calling into question race control's decision.

More than a week later, Barnhart's decision to stay green was validated by Buddy Lazier, who explained that he went through the area purportedly slicked from Junqueira's car without incident. Still, I'm sure Mo Nunn Racing and Kanaan will always feel the track should have gone yellow.

"To second-guess the officials either for calling a yellow caution or for their placement of the order of the cars is not allowed under the rules and for good reason," George said. "Judgment calls must be final, and that is the only way to conduct a motorsports race."

If the appealing team was not a member of CART would George allowed the process to continue? Based upon his news conference announcing his decision, I say yes.

It is, after all, the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."