Bobby Rahal furious over team's 3-car 'improper conduct' penalty: 'Like what Roger's team did?'

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INDIANAPOLIS — Bobby Rahal was taken aback by stiff penalties to his team's three cars for what IndyCar deemed “improper conduct” early in Thursday’s six-hour practice for the Indianapolis 500. The co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing feels the series did so unevenly – favoring the cars owned by IndyCar series owner Roger Penske.

The No. 15, 30 and 45 cars will be forced to miss the first 30 minutes of Fast Friday practice after they drove three-wide slowly down the front-stretch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a photo opportunity during the opening minute of Thursday’s practice. The move inadvertently caused small contact between Colton Herta and Scott McLaughlin behind them at the start of the straight when the Team Penske driver noticed the slow-up in front of him and pulled up himself, along with Paretta Autosport’s Simona de Silvestro.

But trailing and coming in hot and pushing 220 mph into Turn 4 without having been told that he was quickly approaching slow-moving traffic, Herta didn’t have the proper time to react. The driver of the No. 26 Honda veered right coming out of Turn 4 to avoid running into the back of McLaughlin and scraped the right side of the Team Penske car. Herta also tapped the outside wall.

Both came away with minor damage and were able to return to the track later after quick, precautionary trips to the garage.

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Graham Rahal, as well as his father Bobby, pointed to a similar move the four Team Penske cars had done early in Tuesday’s practice – the first of the week of preparation for the 500 – and came away without so much as a word.

But IndyCar had deemed the first five minutes of that 10 a.m.-12 p.m. session on Tuesday a 5-minute “install session,” meaning no cars would be moving at high speeds. During that time, the four Team Penske cars spread across the front-straight for a photo opportunity and likely nod to Roger, who owns the team as well as the series and the track.

“Oh really, like the one Roger did the day before? Well, Roger’s team I should say,” the elder Rahal told IndyStar when asked about the move that brought upon the penalty from IndyCar. “That’s disappointing. We were several hundred yards ahead. It was a pitstop session, that’s what I heard, and it was the first lap. I find that maybe some people should maybe not be in such a rush. Maybe their spotters should be more aware.”

His criticism was focused on Herta and the Andretti Autosport team.

“Two other cars managed to avoid the issue,” he continued. “We were at the start-finish line when it all happened, maybe 500 yards, maybe longer away, and from what I understand, the Team Penske spotter said, ‘Hey, a couple cars are going slower. Just be aware.’ They didn’t have a problem with it.”

Before the penalties were levied, IndyStar spoke with Graham, who was more measured, but felt like the magnifying glass put on his team for something so similar to what Team Penske had done was unfair.

“May there have been a better time for us to do it? Sure, but at the same token, it was the first 30 seconds of practice, and you had pitstops going on,” he said. “My advice would be to look up. I’m not sitting here trying to argue with anybody, cause those are two guys (Herta and McLaughlin) I respect, but at the end of the day, everyone’s cars are coming in and out of pit lane continuously. You’ve gotta be paying a little more attention. They can be mad.

“We don’t like to see anyone make contact, but all I know is, if it’s my first lap of practice, I’m a little more alert than that. To me, it’s just pretty common sense to be aware, and that’s both spotter and driver, everybody. I’m always looking way up the road to see what’s going on. It sure didn’t look like that was the case.”

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Earlier in the day immediately following the incident, Herta took issue with the idea that he or his spotter should have been able to make an adjustment. He was having to react to McLaughlin and De Silvestro, who were just coming out of the turn where there sometimes a bit of a dead-spot in a driver’s two spotters’ sight lines.

“For anyone giving it to my spotters, I’d like to see you react to 100 mph closing speeds,” he tweeted.

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He continued on IndyCar radio, saying, “It turns out going three-wide for a photo op during an IndyCar practice isn’t an ideal situation. They’re going 100 mph on the front-straight while guys are going over 220 mph. Whoever is in-charge of that at Rahal is a complete idiot and is just risking everybody’s lives out here. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Luckily, we got away with it easy. The car should be okay.

“I didn’t think at the time I could get left there. I was hoping Scott’s spotter would tell him, and luckily he did right at the last second, and he probably moved half a car width over, and it was just enough for me to bobble in between him and the wall. The most important thing is this is our main car – the car we prepped for Indy, and it didn’t get hurt too bad.”

In the post-practice press conference, Herta said he felt the 30-minute penalty for the three Rahal cars was “appropriate.”

“I understand what they were trying to do. It’s just not the time or place to do it.”

The elder Rahal disagreed.

“Naturally, I’m disappointed with it,” he said. “And I’ll be talking to IndyCar to see why it’s not okay to do what was done two days before.

“But can you fight City Hall? I don’t know.”

Rahal assumed his team manager, Ricardo Nault, had spoken with the series about the penalties, but the team co-owner said he didn’t know the gist of that back and forth, closing with, “It’s something that happened a quarter-mile behind us, or thereabouts. Why should we pay the price for that? You’ve got to be aware.”

Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at nlbrown@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indy 500: Bobby Rahal blasts IndyCar over team penalty for photo shoot