Editorial

Conspiracy theory: What Indy was really all about
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 June 21, 2005

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Bernie Ecclestone tried in vain to get the 14 teams to race last Sunday at Indy.  Was he, the Speedway and the fans a victim of a conspiracy?

There has been a lot written over the last several days about the Indy Fiasco, but I have a slightly different opinion on what Indy was all about.  It will be interesting to see what the FIA will do to the seven teams on Thursday, who have the ultimate responsibility for not running, and to Michelin, who at the least are suspected of lying, and certainly of aiding and abetting the teams who did not run.

I think the last minute addition of a chicane would have been insane and was really just a diversion for the media to focus on. CanAm did exactly that at Charlotte Motor Speedway when it was the 5-liter CanAm Series. They had suspension problems, and if memory serves me correctly, tire problems, too, with the banking (sound familiar?).

The hay bale chicane they used in the backstretch at the last minute was a disaster and again if memory serves, was virtually non-existent at race end. They had a "Chief Steward in Charge of the Chicane" (Watts Hill) at the chicane and in touch with the Chief Steward at the time to try to make it work, he did his best but it didn't.

I am surprised that F1's Chief Steward, Charlie Whiting, didn't tell the teams, "You race or else," with the 'or else' the threat of loss of all season points, and fines per car up to the maximum fine limit ($500,000?) each. I strongly doubt he has that authority, but it would have been a good strategic move and perhaps have gotten teams to break ranks and put on a show for the spectators.

Nowhere have I seen it mentioned, but my inquisitive mind tells me there is more behind this than tires. Most of the seven teams, partially or totally owned by auto manufacturers, have been posturing against the FIA and Bernie for well over a year, threatening to run their own series when the present Concorde agreement ends after 2007.   And today AutoRacing1.com got wind that Minardi might be bought by BMW, bring them into the GPWC fold.  Minardi's team boss, Paul Stoddart, has been very outspoken against Max Mosley, who supports Bernie Ecclestone and the current F1 regime.

That this group seriously damaged Max Mosley, the FIA, and Bernie Ecclestone last Sunday, does not go unnoticed by me.  And it is not just a coincidence in my honest opinion. But like the "oval cartel," such a cabal would be devilishly hard to prove. As of this (Tuesday) morning there has not been one peep out of any of the seven teams, complaining that Michelin did not supply tires adequate to do the job, especially after Michelin had been warned in writing by the FIA on June 1st.

Just the opposite, Frank Williams was quoted just today "The teams were desperate to race and put on a good show,“ says the Englishman, "Racing in North America is of fundamental importance to Formula One’s commercial health." The BMW WilliamsF1 Team also supported the decision of all Michelin-supplied racing teams to waive the chance of scoring World Championship points. Williams declared, "We wanted at least to entertain the fans and we were prepared to let go of the points and give them all to Ferrari. I cannot stress enough how disappointed we were."  He went on to place the blame squarely on Max Mosley.

Again, another diversion to make it sound good?

An issue has been raised about whether the diamond grinding the Speedway did to the asphalt caused the Michelin tire failures.  The Speedway of course says no.  Michelin did not have problems at Indy in previous years. Why now all of a sudden and why were we only told about a few problems with the tires throughout the weekend.  Was it just a coincidence that only the two Toyotas had real issues and could that have been caused by chassis setup or too low tire pressures?  Was it not said that Michelin advised the teams what to do for the tires to be safe after the Schumacher accident, i.e. use proper air pressures.  Then that was silenced. 

During the course of the weekend, bulletins were issued stating how the FIA had measured, weighed and otherwise examined competing cars and found them in compliance with its rules. The tire problems experienced were limited to one team, Toyota. Up and down pit road, it was widely discussed that not only did Toyota, but other teams as well, ignore tire manufacturer’s inflation-pressure recommendations. It was made known by Michelin that the problem experienced by Ricardo Zonta Friday was due to under-inflation of their tires, and it can be presumed Ralf Schumacher’s Friday crash was for the same reason. No other Michelin-shod cars had any trouble that I heard of.

Why then were there no complaints from the teams about Michelin?   None of the Michelin teams came out and made a fuss about blaming Michelin for what happened.  And how come nobody broke ranks? It is said that several teams had no tire problems as monitored during practice, yet they also refused to race. Why? What was so powerful as to keep them all off the track?

There were also reports that Jarno Trulli's car didn't have enough fuel to go three laps in the race. That meant they knew they would not race even before qualifying on Saturday and decided to get some PR by running virtually empty and taking the pole.  How could they have been so sure?

Also, I think Bernie has wanted to go back to a single tire make for a while anyway. Notice, too, that most of the breakaway GPWC teams are Michelin shod...perhaps Bernie got wind that the French tire maker was going to become the official tire supplier to GPWC. Say au revoir to Mr. Bibendum after this year if our sources are correct that the FIA will kick Michelin out of F1 after this year.  Perhaps Bernie's side sticking a dagger into the GPWC by way of Michelin?

Is it a coincidence that the FIA announced radical rules changes for 2008 effectively copying Champ Car on many things.  The GPWC is dead set against going to such extremes.  You don't see them proposing rules anywhere near what the FIA proposed.  The press release by the FIA probably galled Ron Dennis who spent a small fortune on his lavish technology center for the sole purpose of building state-of-the-art race cars.

And last, who were the Stewards of the Meet at this event, and what is their experience? By the Code, the Stewards have an awful lot to say about the running of the race, and yet there hasn't been a whisper about them, so far. Wonder what they were doing while all this was playing out?

The bottom line is that I believe what was at play at Indy last Sunday goes far deeper than most of you realize, that the safety issue card was played for all its worth.  And in the chess match between the current regime and the GPWC, the race fans and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway became the pawns.

Just as I feel the France family used Tony George as a pawn to help divide and conquer CART and open wheel racing in the USA, so too might Mr. George have been an unknowing victim in the war between Max, Bernie and the breakaway GPWC.

A conspiracy or just my wild imagination?  You decide.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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