MADISON, Ill. — Alexander Rossi was criticized and exonerated for the way he led the field to green at Mid-Ohio, and Will Power was likewise found without fault after a collision behind him last week at Pocono.
That doesn't mean the starts of recent IndyCar races haven't been shaky.
In a sense it's only natural, given the cars are tightly bunched, their tires are still warming up and everyone in the field is itching to get a jump. But as the season winds down and the intensity ramps up, it seems that everybody is riding a fine line when the green flag first flies.
"Hopefully everyone has learned how to take care of each other on the starts," Josef Newgarden said, "because its' the worst time to wreck is right off the bat."
The defending champion of Saturday night's race at Gateway Motorsports Park, Newgarden still harbours some hope of defending his IndyCar title. But that means staying out of trouble if Rossi and points leader Scott Dixon stumble, and the most likely place for trouble to happen is the start.
"Every race you do is a long race, so there's no reason to wreck right in the start," he said. "Mid-Ohio and Pocono were two different cases, so it's hard to compare, but even with a couple different examples, hopefully people — and I mean collectively, the whole group, the whole field will look at that and try and make it turn a little bit better in Gateway."
Some drivers thought Rossi brake-checked the field at Mid-Ohio, giving him an advantage leading the opening lap, while others insisted that nothing nefarious happened. Similar criticisms were levied against Power at Pocono, though he showed his data on live TV to prove he maintained his speed.
In both cases an accordion-effect happened, causing problems deeper in the field. The biggest came at Pocono, where Graham Rahal got into Spencer Pigot, sending him into the wall and out of the race.
Rossi disputed the notion there's been trouble on starts, pointing out that the rest of the season has gone smoothly. He also said that IndyCar race director Kyle Novak has looked into the last two starts and cleared himself and Power, and that the starting "parameters" are perfectly clear.
"I think Will proved very clearly that he maintained his speed and the guys in the back were trying to get runs," Rossi said. "I don't think there will be any changes."
QUALIFYIN WASHED OUT: Heavy rain lashed the St. Louis area Friday morning, and as water continued to seep out of the pavement, IndyCar cancelled evening qualifying so there could be additional practice.
The grid will be set by entrant points with Dixon leading the field to green Saturday night.
"In many ways IndyCar made the right decision in trying to put the priority on getting some running time in dry conditions that would benefit everybody in race setup," he said. "I'm sure there will be guys not happy about it. For us it works out great because we're leading the points, but ultimately I think our car is pretty good. Would we have gotten the pole? Maybe, maybe not."
MORE WEATHER WOES: Rain isn't the only weather concern this weekend. Temperatures were in the 60s on Friday with damp, overcast skies, but they were expected to soar into the mid-90s on Saturday.
That makes it difficult for teams to formulate a setup plan given this year's new aero package.
"This car is a lot different, and it's definitely a lot different here. This is a high-downforce place," Ed Carpenter said. "There's so much to learn and we have so little track time."
SILLY SEASON: Rahal said he's hopeful Takuma Sato will sign a contract extension to keep the Japanese driver and former Indy 500 winner with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing next season.
The team has struggled all season, but Rahal said a two-car operation has started to pay dividends.
"If we can make that happen next year and keep the same group together it would help," Rahal said. "It's great to have two cars. I hope nothing changes and we can continue down that path. For our team to have the growth and everything we've experienced, I think it's been good."
SILLY SEASON, PART 2: Roger Penske confirmed last weekend that Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had signed contract extensions, keeping the Indy 500 winner and former series champion in the fold.
Power has won twice this year, but Pagenaud has no wins and only two top-five finishes.
"I'm very happy with Team Penske. We have a fantastic relationship," Pagenaud said. "We won a championship (in 2016), finished second last year and we want to win more championships together."
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