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Rahal: “I didn’t appreciate some of the excuses” from Penske

Written by Archie O’Reilly


Graham Rahal has said he “didn’t appreciate” what he believed to be “excuses” made by Team Penske and its drivers after winner Josef Newgarden and third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin were disqualified from the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for illegal usage of push-to-pass on race restarts.


Newgarden spoke to the media in a special press conference at Barber Motorsports Park, where he admitted to purposefully pressing the button as a result of the team supposedly believing there had been a rule change enabling push-to-pass on starts and restarts.


“You don’t want to criticise too much,” Rahal said. “I didn’t appreciate some of the quotes that were made. I didn’t appreciate some of the excuses that were made because I don’t think that they’re valid excuses. I was kind of okay with: ‘All right, well, this is a penalty.’ 


“But then when the stories kept coming out, I kept reading the quotes, I just thought to myself: ‘Now you’re just digging yourself into a hole that’s just absolute BS. I just don’t appreciate that. In the spirit of sportsmanship, screw up, do something, fess up, move on with life.”


Penske’s third driver Will Power did not press the button and gain any advantage so only received a 10-point deduction, which ended up being only a net loss of two points as his teammates’ disqualifications saw him promoted two places to second in St. Pete. 


The line from Penske Team President Tim Cindric in a statement released on Wednesday was that a certain piece of push-to-pass software was not removed “following recently completed hybrid testing”. The infraction was realised when push-to-pass was not enabled for the field in Sunday’s morning warm-up in Long Beach but Penske still had access.


“I don’t appreciate the poor excuses and the digging to explain it,” Rahal reiterated later in the post-practice press conference. “At the end of the day it’s fairly simple. You had access to something that nobody else did, and that’s the facts. That’s it. I think it’s really, really disappointing to kind of read some of that stuff.” 


One particular talking point is whether the respect level for Newgarden and teammate McLaughlin may change given they played a part in the situation by pressing push-to-pass at an illegal time. Unlike Newgarden confirming he pressed the button intentionally on multiple occasions and realised so, McLaughlin has said he did so accidentally on one occasion. 


Newgarden said it could take time to build a respect factor back up but, speaking alongside Rahal, Romain Grosjean does not necessarily believe perception will change.


“I don’t think it changes the respect,” Grosjean said. “I think Scott McLaughlin is one of the best drivers I’ve met in my career. Being able to do poles and win races in IndyCar is absolutely stunning. I haven’t lost any respect for them. They tried, they got caught, and we move on.”


There is the argument often floated that trying to stretch the limits and find loopholes is a natural part of motorsport. Penske recently had an issue in the NASCAR Cup Series as Joey Logano completed qualifying with a webbed glove, which was interpreted as being to give an aerodynamic advantage as he held his hand out of the window.


“I would say everybody’s always trying to push the limitations in motorsports in general,” Rahal said. “But I don’t think that cheating is as common in IndyCar as it may be in NASCAR. I think there’s a lot of things that you can do. The damper development is a massive area in this sport that a lot of the big teams are constantly working on. 


“For us, I just think everybody’s going to try. Back in the days when they had ride height limitations, there were guys always pushing the limits on how much they could get away with bottoming before wearing the dome skid at Indy or Texas or places before you got busted. But I don’t think that cheating is quite as commonplace here as maybe others. 


“But I also think this is a little bit of a shock too because utilising overtake is not something I would have ever even thought was generally possible. I didn’t know that was something a team could have any control over at all. I was very shocked when I read the news.”


Grosjean, who has raced 179 times in Formula 1, has his own perspective on how limits may be pushed from that side.


“I think you always try to push the limit,” he said. “You don’t cheat until you’ve been caught cheating. That’s what you try in Formula 1. Obviously you always have a doubt. I think Graham brought up a good point… in IndyCar, you can do so much in the dampers that cheating on the rest is relatively small compared to what you can gain on the dampers.”


Penske responded well to a tumultuous week in the opening practice session on Friday at Barber, with Newgarden overcoming an early spin to top the times. Power was third and defending race winner McLaughlin ninth.


“Do I think it changes the end result? No, they’re damn good,” Rahal said. “They’ve shown today they’re going to be fast, they’re going to be up front.”

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