WEST ALLIS, Wis. — Having replayed his brush with the wall over and over in his mind this week, Graham Rahal takes full blame for the mistake that almost certainly cost him a victory at Texas Motor Speedway last week.
Still, heading into today’s IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile, Rahal does wonder whether the team of Texas winner Justin Wilson deserved a more significant penalty for a technical infraction that series officials found on his car after the race after missing them before the event.
Wilson took the checkered flag after Rahal touched the wall in the closing stages of the race; Rahal recovered to finish second. A post-race inspection found unapproved pieces of bodywork fitted to Wilson’s car, and Wilson was docked five points while his Dale Coyne Racing team was fined $7,500.
Rahal doesn’t think the violation was the decisive factor in Wilson’s win — but he doesn’t see the punishment as much of a deterrent, either.
“That’s what bothers me, 7,500 bucks? If you win a race, I’ll pay 7,500 bucks out of my own pocket,” Rahal said Friday. “If you get five points, that doesn’t even take you from finishing first to finishing second. The points gap is barely that. So it’s like it’s no penalty. It’s no penalty.”
Rahal isn’t directing criticism at Wilson, a former teammate he respects as just about any other driver in the series.
“It takes nothing away from him,” Rahal said. “But when is cheating cheating? Oversight or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s illegal.”
Rahal said he is hesitant to take his concerns to IndyCar officials because he’s already on probation for an incident with Marco Andretti earlier this year. But Rahal suggests team owners should take action.
“The team owners all are irked about it,” Rahal said. “Other than Dale (Coyne), of course.”
During a test at Iowa Speedway earlier this week, IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips said Wilson’s team used standard parts that initially were approved for Texas but were later banned.
“He ran the same parts in qualifying,” Phillips said. “So if it was such a big deal, would that not have put him higher up than 17th?”
Wilson called the criticism from drivers — others have chimed in as well this week, including Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves — disappointing.
Wilson insisted the part didn’t provide a significant performance advantage, and said the relatively light penalty was an indication that series officials agreed. Wilson said he won because he did a better job taking care of his tires than other drivers.
“But it’s human nature,” Wilson said. “I don’t blame them, because it’s going to happen. There’s got to be a reason. Somewhere, there’s got to be an excuse.”
Rahal notes that his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, was fined $15,000 for a technical infraction at Indianapolis that was discovered before qualifying. Rahal remembers being penalized after qualifying at Watkins Glen in 2009 after his car was found to be one pound underweight.
“I’d like to know what would have happened if I’d had those on and we had won the race,” Rahal said of Wilson’s infraction. “I bet you it would have been more than 7,500 bucks and five points.”