Race Control has defended its handling of the Safety Car intervention which ultimately led to Jamie Whincup copping a race-changing penalty at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint.
Whincup, the early leader in Race 24, was picked up by the Safety Car on the back straight at Pukekohe despite having dropped further down the order due to having already served his first pit stop.
He was slapped with a drive-through penalty after he chose to pass the Safety Car without being shown green lights giving him permission to do so, before questioning the professionalism of Race Control in a post-race interview.
Roland Dane, Whincup’s boss at the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, surmised in the minutes after the incident that Race Control had erred in picking up Car #88, and Tickford Racing team principal Tim Edwards, who had three cars affected, expressed a similar sentiment during and after the race.
Deputy Race Director David Stuart, however, claimed that no mistake had been made.
He reasoned that Pukekohe Park Raceway’s relatively long pit lane and short lap (2.91km or just over a minute in lap time) meant that it was always their intent to not necessarily pick up the race leader while they worked to establish what the order should have been.
“First of all, in a situation like this at a circuit like this, we’ve got a short lap and a long pit lane,” said Stuart on Fox Sports’ Supercars Trackside.
“We had an incident that we deployed the Safety Car for. So we had a car stopped on track, on the racing line, on the entry to Turn 8, so the Safety Car was deployed.
“At that time, because of the long pit lane, short lap, we need to be able to understand who is the leader of the race and get the right person.
“So that’s why the orange lights were on the Safety Car, to give us an opportunity to sort out where the leader was positioned at the time.”
When Whincup’s argument that the Safety Car lights should have been green and not orange was put to him, Stuart replied: “The rules are clear on the deployment of the Safety Car.
“So we will always try and pick up the leader but in a situation like this, if it’s a longer circuit with a normal pit lane it gives us the opportunity to find the leader and pick the leader up but at the same time you’ve got a recovery on track.
“As it turns out, that car (David Reynolds’, which had caused the Safety Car), it eventually made its way back to pit lane under its own power.
“However, the rules are clear under Safety Car deployment; if the orange lights are on, you stay behind the Safety Car.”
Stuart argued that Whincup’s decision to take it upon himself to drive past the Safety Car exacerbated the situation.
“The leader of the race is always the loser in a Safety Car scenario,” he began.
“However, by Car 88 going past the Safety Car, we then lost the opportunity to be able to evaluate the situation in a calm manner and we needed to avoid the situation where we had half the field a lap down.”
Race Director Tim Schenken supported his deputy’s view.
“What David was explaining is exactly correct,” he declared.
“But the issue is that when we deployed the Safety Car in some circumstances – and this circuit, as David said, (is a) short circuit, long pit lane – you don’t know immediately who the leader is.
“So you’ve got to hold the first car that’s approaching. You actually determine where the leader is (at) the Safety Car 2 line, which is after the pit exit.
“That will determine and confirm to us who the actual leader is.
“Anything could happen in the meantime. The leader could stall, what the people think the leader is could stall in pit lane, (or) have some issues.
“So we have to be confident that when we identify the leader, that we then pick up the right car.
“So that was the situation here. Hold the field, identify the leader, and wave any cars between the car behind the Safety Car and the leader through.”
It was then put to Schenken and Stuart that they were adamant that the matter was entirely a ‘competitor management issue’, to which the former confirmed: “Yes; exactly.”
Schenken was also asked to comment on Whincup’s ‘red wine’ quip as the seven-time champion questioned the commitment of those in Race Control.
“We are committed and I think everybody knows that,” he responded.
“I haven’t heard, whoever the driver was, I haven’t heard what he said but I think most people know we are absolutely committed.”
Whincup finished 16th after serving his penalty and making slight progress from a low of an effective 20th position.