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Questions linger about IndyCar pit lane protocols after Texas incident and penalty

Relive the IndyCar Series race from Texas Motor Speedway from the perspective of the drivers with in-race team radio communications.

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Questions still linger about pit lane protocols for some NTT IndyCar Series drivers about the disputed collision between Alexander Rossi and Kyle Kirkwood at Texas Motor Speedway.

Rossi was penalized by IndyCar – first for an unsafe release and amended later to contact with another car – after his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet ran into Kirkwood’s No. 27 Dallara-Honda (which is the car Rossi drove the past seven seasons before joining Arrow McLaren).

Rossi was livid about the punishment, detailing at length during his “Off Track” podcast why believed the call was unfair. In explaining the ruling, IndyCar officials said the oval pits are divided into three lanes – the “fast” outer section, the middle “transition” lane and the pit boxes. Fast lane cars have first priority, then the transition lane and then the pits.

LONG BEACH PRIMER: Details, schedules for watching IndyCar this weekend

Thus, Rossi was penalized for exiting when the contact occurred while Kirkwood was entering directly from the fast lane – which Rossi said was improper because the No. 27 didn’t use the transition lane to provide his team with fair warning that Kirkwood was coming.

During a news conference ahead of Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Kirkwood said Thursday he has yet to discuss the incident with IndyCar or Rossi, but the Andretti Autosport driver plans to address the topic with both.

“We kind of bumped heads on it, and we both are in disagreement,” Kirkwood said. “I will talk to him at some point about it. But ultimately he thinks I should have been in the transition lane. For me to be in the transition lane, I would have had to been like eight boxes before. And I wouldn’t have made it around the Ganassi cars (Scott Dixon and Alex Palou were exiting from behind Kirkwood’s stall) given they still were in their boxes. We were in disagreement about that.”

Kirkwood chalked up the incident mostly to bad timing (noting if he’d been a car length ahead or behind, the collision would have been avoided), but he also noted the IndyCar rulebook is vague on pit lane procedures.

Rule notes that drivers can be penalized for “failing to follow designated procedures entering or exiting the Pit Lane, including the proper use of the acceleration and deceleration lanes, transition and through lanes, and pit exit commit lines,” but it doesn’t specify how or when drivers should enter the transition lane.

That’s prompted some drivers to question whether the rulebook needs updating with procedural language, which figures to come up when drivers have their prerace meeting with IndyCar officials today.

“I think it inevitably has to be a discussion because of what happened,” two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden said. “There needs to be more clarity on it in light of what took place and clear up what is expected.

“It’s a tough situation because it’s easy for this to happen. There’s so much going on, and it’s very chaotic and in this particular situation, it’s very congested. It’s easy to see it happen, and obviously, we don’t want it to, and that’s why IndyCar is so strict. They’re trying to reduce any sort of incident in pit lane. In my opinion, the simplest thing to do to clear this up is to clarify the transition lane is there for a reason. It has to be somewhat utilized if it’s capable of being utilized, because that’s really the only way that I think the pit crew can determine what is coming or not.

“It’s hard to put blame on Kirkwood because he didn’t break a rule, but it’s hard to put any blame on Rossi or his team because I don’t know how they could have done anything different, really. So that’s where the clarity needs to come in because no one did anything on purpose or did anything egregious, but now what happened has shot a spotlight on the fact that we need to clarify this further.”

IndyCar officials say they have no plans to codify its pit lane procedures, preferring the flexibility of setting verbal ground rules with drivers in the meeting before each race.

Kirkwood, who also does GT sports car endurance racing, noted that IMSA has a rule that cars can’t drive through more than three boxes on entering (which also is a rule in NASCAR). He would like IndyCar to specify a distance or number of boxes where drivers need to move to the transition lane.

“If there is no rule (in IndyCar), technically, you just could run down the transition late all the way through and make every single person wait that wants to launch,” Kirkwood said. “Why wouldn’t you do that? Which is something I’m going to bring up in the drivers meeting. Where do they want us going in the transition lane? What is the safest route? What’s the best for everyone? What do the pit members want, the guy that’s launching the person. Where do you want us coming in. We need to have that conversation.”

The Kirkwood-Rossi incident happened during a yellow flag sequence, and an overhead camera showed that virtually every car before Kirkwood pitted directly from the fast lane. As they slow from 60 mph to 0, drivers say the sharp turn from the outside lane is the most efficient way to enter the box.

“You need that angle, especially on the oval, to swing in, and if you don’t have the angle, you can’t park,” Simon Pagenaud said. “To me, I don’t think (Kirkwood) did anything wrong. I just think he has to get in his box.

“If there’s a contact, (IndyCar has) to take action. They can’t go unnoticed when that happens because it could break someone’s leg. It’s obviously important for the crew members to be safe.”

Kirkwood, though, believes Rossi shouldn’t have been penalized for the contact.

“Ultimately giving someone a penalty isn’t going to fix the situation,” he said. “What do we need to do to fix the situation instead of making someone drive through pit lane again.”

After being penalized for contact with Graham Rahal in the 2022 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Marcus Ericsson said he also pleaded for leniency.

“I understand safety for the crews is very important, and I agree with that,” Ericsson said. “But I think sometimes you have to also look at a situation and say, ‘Hey, no one really could have done something here. It’s a racing incident.’ ”

Said Newgarden: “IndyCar is so strict on pit lane, because this is the one place they really don’t want to see an incident happen because of the exposure to the crew. I get that they want to penalize someone, but it seemed like this one didn’t warrant one. So because of all of this, we need further clarity and probably a slight tweak to the rule, and that’s not a bad thing. Obviously we try to live and learn, and I think we’re going to have to on that.”