IRL now admits to weight issue

It appears our constant reminding that driver weight is an issue in the IRL, and that Danica Patrick has a distinct advantage because of a loophole in the IRL rulebook, is starting to catch on. Whereas Brian Barnhart said it was not an issue (how foolish to make such a statement) this Canadian Press article says, Drivers in the Indy Racing League spend a lot of time watching their weight. Some of them wouldn't mind if the circuit kept an eye on the scales, too. Previously, the league has stayed away from the debate over whether 100-pound rookie Danica Patrick's size gives her an unfair advantage on the track. But now, the IRL, the only major circuit that does not factor driver weight into its rules, is taking a cautious look at the issue – while stopping far short of promising any changes. "Certainly as the season progresses, our competition department will have things come up that they say, 'You know, we need to take a look at this in the rule book when we get to the off-season,' " spokesman John Griffin said before last weekend's race at Kansas Speedway. "We're open to it. "I'm not saying, though, that it's definitely on the list of things to do."

Still, the league's acknowledgement of the weight debate came as welcome news to some drivers – even as they acknowledged the timing makes it seem as though Patrick is being singled out. I think Danica's just brought it up because she is so light, she is so tiny," said Scott Dixon, who outweighs Patrick by 50 pounds. "Every little bit in this series counts, and if you can get on an even par with weight, it would help out a lot of guys." Patrick, who in May became the first woman to lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500 and whose fourth-place finish there was the best by a woman, is 35 pounds lighter than the next-lightest drivers, Darren Manning and Ryan Briscoe. Her weight is 50 pounds under the league average, and the heaviest drivers, Sam Hornish Jr. and Ed Carpenter, outweigh her by 65 pounds each. Hornish, whose engineering team has said that Patrick's size gives her a speed advantage on the track, said the league already should have had a driver-weight rule in place. "That's something I pushed for a long time ago," Hornish said. "I'm a six-foot guy, running against some five-foot-three guys that were like 120 pounds at the time.

"I know that there's a little bit of advantage there, and it's a bit upsetting to me that it would have to happen the way it's turning out. "If they would have already had it done, then it wouldn't be that way." The issue first aired publicly a day before the Indianapolis 500, when Robby Gordon – who did not drive in this year's race – said Patrick had an unfair advantage because of her size. He later said he was criticizing a hole in the IRL's rule book, not Patrick. Patrick, questioned about the weight issue after taking the pole for Sunday's Argent Mortgage Indy 300, tried to deflect it. "It's all about getting the car as good as you can and as fast as possible," said Patrick, who developed mechanical problems early and finished ninth. "I know that our team works very hard to hit everything right, to get the aerodynamics down and all of those little things." When her questioner persisted after the news conference, Patrick shot back: "You don't know what we do out there. We may be adding 80 pounds to the car that you don't know about." But with IRL races often decided by less than a second, and drivers and their teams constantly searching for the tiniest advantage, most look to run as light as possible.

"We look for such small tolerances, you know, such small gains in these cars," said Dario Franchitti, who is listed at 55 pounds heavier than Patrick. "I think it's important at some point that they do address it, especially since Danica's come into the series. "I think it's important not to do a knee-jerk reaction. They have to evaluate it, and then if they're going to change it, change it at the correct time. Doing it midseason would be wrong, I would say." If the league does decide to change the rule book, Griffin said, that would present another set of challenges. "Can you come up with an average? Does an average work? That's where our guys have to evaluate it and see what can be done to maintain it over the course of a season," Griffin said. [Editor's Note: No an average does not work. Do it right] "What's to say that a driver doesn't spend his winter months not working out and gain a lot of weight – then we do the weight session or weight evaluation, and he goes on this intense training session and loses a lot of weight." But if other circuits can do it, Dixon said, the IRL can too. "It's an easy thing to do," he said. "Clean it up, get it done, make sure everybody's at the same weight. "Make everybody happy."

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