INDYCAR Penalizes Team Penske for Push-to-Pass Infractions

With the penalties imposed, Arrow McLaren's Pato O'Ward is declared winner of this year's Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg - Penske Entertainment photo

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ push-to-pass program allows a certain number of button presses that deliver to each of the 27 regular season entries a defined amount of extra horsepower from their Chevrolet or Honda 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged engines. The added power is only available during a race and is turned on and off by race control, which activates all cars’ buttons from race control after the start of each road/street course event. Push-to-pass (P2P) hasn’t been used on ovals. INDYCAR does allow its use during morning warmups prior to each event in which P2P is used.

Well, apparently the system was available and used by two of  Team Penske’s three Chevrolet-powered entries, for Josef Newgarden (car No. 2), Scott McLaughlin’s No. 3 Dallara and with Will Power’s No. 12 machine, at a time when it was not apparently available for the balance of the 27-car field. During the early morning warmup at the 49th annual Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, race control was having technical issues the first 10 minutes of this 30-minute session; it did not activate P2P until after those issues were resolved.

After looking at the different telemetry it had seen from the three Penske cars, race control had a closer look and discovered only the three Penske cars were able to use the program throughout the warmup, while the balance of the nine teams in INDYCAR’s paddock were not able to use P2P at the start of that session. After its investigation, INDYCAR learned that both Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner Josef Newgarden and teammate Scott McLaughlin, who placed third at that race, had deployed their P2P during start and restart procedures at the first race of the season, when it is never available to teams.

With the penalties imposed, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward is declared winner of this year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg – Penske Entertainment photo

As a result, both Newgarden’s and McLaughlin’s St Pete finishes have been voided, making Arrow McLaren’s Patricio O’Ward the winner. Of course, this race was held the second weekend of March, so O’Ward and his team don’t get much glory out of this change, but they do get the points denied the Team Penske racers. Power, it must be noted, did not benefit from added P2P time; he did not activate the program during last weekend’s warmup, nor during the St. Petersburg points race and was docked 10 points, keeping his fourth-place result in the first race of the season. All teams were permitted to use P2P at the Thermal exhibition race, including the start and all restarts, a change from usual procedures.

In its statement revealing the penalties, INDYCAR said Team Penske was in violation of the following “Push to Pass” parameters:

* Rule 14.19.15: An indicator to enable Push to Pass will be sent via CAN communication from the timing and scoring beacon on board the Car to the team data logger. This signal must be passed on to the ECU unmodified and uninterrupted during all Road and Street Course events.

* Rule 14.19.16: Race Starts and any Race Restart that occurs before the lap prior to the white flag or prior to three minutes remaining in a timed Race Event, will have the Push to Pass system disabled and will be enabled for a given Car once that Car reaches the alternate Start/Finish line.

“According to the rulebook,” INDYCAR continued, “the violation is considered a Race procedure Penalty (9.2.2.) which includes the right to reposition the Driver/Car in the posting or results, with a disqualification (9.2.2.6.) that includes the forfeiture of points and awards.

“During the Sunday, April 21 warmup session ahead of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, INDYCAR discovered the team’s possible rules violation. An extensive review of data from the race on the Streets of St. Petersburg revealed that Team Penske manipulated the overtake system so that the No. 2, 3 and 12 had the ability to use Push to Pass on starts and restarts. According to the INDYCAR rulebook, use of overtake is not available during championship races until the car reaches the alternate start-finish line.

“It was determined that the No. 2 and the No. 3 gained a competitive advantage by using Push to Pass on restarts, while the No. 12 did not. Additionally, all three entries have been fined $25,000 and will forfeit all prize money associated with the Streets of St Petersburg race.”

INDYCAR, through its president Jay Frye stated, “The integrity of the INDYCAR SERIES championship is critical to everything we do. While the violation went undetected at St. Petersburg, INDYCAR discovered the manipulation during Sunday’s warmup in Long Beach and immediately addressed it, ensuring all cars were compliant for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Beginning with this week’s race at Barber Motorsports Park, new technical inspection procedures will be in place to deter this violation.”

While it might have been possible for Team Penske to appeal these penalties, Tim Cindric, team president, chose not to do so. “Unfortunately the push-to-pass software was not removed as it should have been, following recently completed hybrid testing in the Team Penske Indy cars,” he said. “This software allowed for push-to-pass to be deployed during the restarts at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix race, when it should not have been permitted. The No. 2 car driven by Josef Newgarden and the No. 3 car driven by Scott McLaughlin both deployed push-to-pass on a restart, which violated INDYCAR rules. Team Penske accepts the penalties applied by INDYCAR.”

“Chevrolet is disappointed that Team Penske violated an NTT INDYCAR Series rule resulting in the disqualification of the No. 2 car and No. 3 car and the penalty to the No. 12 car from the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. We support INDYCAR’s decision and action.”  Jim Campbell, GM US Vice President Performance and Motorsports remarked.

INDYCAR has permitted the use of P2P during hybrid testing of the engines it’ll be rolling out later this year. Unfortunately, Team Penske’s use of P2P carried over to points-paying races. The ECUs (engine control units) on each Indy car are interfaced solely by the series and its two engine manufacturers. Teams interface with the MyLaps timing and scoring transponder, as well as the central logger unit (CLU). Before any team gets on track, ECUs are locked by INDYCAR with layers for engine manufacturers and layers for the sanction. Teams do not have access to this information. Engine manufacturers can adjust certain parameters; others they are not able to touch. Naturally, P2P is one of the untouchables.

About Anne Proffit 1268 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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