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DJRTP team orders decision: Evidence and relevant submissions

Daniel Herrero

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Sunday 20th October, 2019 - 12:54pm

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Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto were penalised

The following text is taken from CAMS Stewards Decision No 123 concerning DJR Team Penske’s breach of the FIA International Sporting Code at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

It is particularly noteworthy in considering the penalties issued that stewards state, as republished below, that “We are prepared to assume that there was no intention to advantage Car #17,” in the instructions given to Fabian Coulthard to slow down under the Safety Car in question.

The Evidence

At the outset of the Hearing the Stewards confirmed, without objection from the DRD of DJRTP, that the evidence received by the Stewards in the Inquiry on 13 October 2019 is also evidence for the purposes of this Hearing. Neither party objected to the same Panel of Stewards who had conducted the Inquiry hearing the Charge.

At the outset of the post-Race Inquiry, and the Stewards having explained the nature and purpose of the Inquiry, the Authorised Representative of DJRTP had candidly acknowledged that the Team had directed that the Driver of Car #12 slow after the Safety Car intervention was announced because the Team recognised that it would need to bring both Cars #17 and #12 into Pit Lane during the Safety Car deployment and because Cars #17 and #12 were “line to stern”, unless a time interval was created between the two Cars on the circuit, they would have to deal with a “double stack” and Car #12 would be waiting behind Car #17 until Car #17’s pit stop had been completed.

That acknowledgement was in itself is a concession of improper conduct on the part of DJRTP. By directing Car #12 to drive slowly, DJRTP sought to obtain an advantage over every other Competitor whose Cars were behind Car #12 because none of those Competitors, unless they also directed their Driver to drive slowly and not comply with 5 Car length rule, would face a double-stack in the Pit Lane were they needing to pit both their Cars.

The Authorised Representative of DJRTP told the Stewards that the Team had been experiencing overheating issues with Car #12. He said that the engine temperatures had been high under green flag conditions, but they had noted that during previous Safety Car deployments in Race 25, the engine temperatures in Car #12 had climbed significantly. He said that he attributed these climbs in temperature to Car #12 having to travel slowly under Safety Car conditions.

Notwithstanding the claim that engine temperatures in Car #12 had been increasing previously when Car #12 had been travelling slowly under Safety Car conditions, the Authorised Representative of DJRTP told the Stewards that, having giving the direction to the Driver of Car #12 to drive slowly upon the commencement of the Safety Car deployment on Lap 134, the engine temperature in Car #12 had gradually dropped. He said that this confirmed to the Team that Car #12 should continue to drive slowly.

The Stewards had examined Supercars telemetry data for Car #12 which does reveal that the engine temperatures in Car #12 were over 110 degrees Celsius in racing conditions and that the temperature did drop during the Lap 134 Safety Car intervention. The Authorised Representative of DJRTP requested an opportunity to present their telemetry for Car #12 referrable to earlier Safety Car interventions which the Stewards were told would demonstrate that engine temperatures were increasing when Car #12 was in procession behind the Safety Car. Ultimately DJRTP has not presented that telemetry data but, for the reasons explained below, even were it to support DJRTP’s propositions, it would not answer nor even mitigate the breach we are considering.

In our view, if the potential for increasing engine temperatures was the sole or predominant reason for the direction to the Driver of Car #12 to slow, it is telling that this reason was not mentioned in the Team Radio communications to the Driver of Car #12. Instead, the reason given by Car #12’s Engineer over the Team Radio for the direction to slow was because there was debris on the circuit at some unknown location. For the reasons which follow, we are satisfied that this reason was knowingly false and the fact that the Team chose to give the Driver of Car #12 a knowingly false reason to slow reflects a consciousness on the part of the Team that the direction was improper.

As mentioned above, the Stewards had summonsed Car #12’s Engineer to the post-Race Inquiry. Car #12’s Engineer claimed, initially, that the only reason why he gave a direction to the Driver of Car #12 to slow was because he genuinely believed that there was debris on the circuit which had caused the Safety Car intervention and that he genuinely did not know where the debris was. He denied knowing that the Safety Car deployment had been caused by Car #27 running wide at the exit of Turn 23 which, of course, is past the Pit Entry road. It follows that because the Team always intended that Car #12 would pit, even if Car #27 had left debris on the circuit at Turn 23, it could not in any way have impacted Car #12 because Car #12 would enter Pit Lane before Turn 23.

A peculiar feature of this matter is that in the Team Radio communication from Car #12’s Engineer to the Driver of Car #12, the Engineer mispronounced “debris” as “debriss”. Further, the Engineer repeatedly said, “We don’t know where the incident is” and “They haven’t told us where the incident is” and said “We think it’s on the mountain [ie. between Turns 2 and 18]”. The degree of emphasis and unwarranted repetition in the Engineer’s language, coupled with the mispronunciation of the word “debris”, and the fact that the assertions made to the Driver were a contrivance, has led us to conclude that the Engineer was speaking to a “script”.

The Stewards asked Car #12’s Engineer why he believed that there was debris on the circuit which required the Driver of Car #12 to exercise extreme caution and drive slowly when the Engineer claimed that he did not know what had caused the Safety Car intervention, whether there had been an incident on the track, what the nature of that incident was and where on the track it had occurred. The Stewards asked Car #12’s Engineer where he thought the debris was and he said that he believed it was “at the elbow [turn 18]”. He was asked why he had that belief and he said that he thought he had heard someone else saying that.

We are unable to accept that evidence. In our view, it defies belief that no one in DJRTP’s garage knew that the reason why the Safety Car deployment had occurred was because Car #27 was off at Turn 23.

We have come to this conclusion for three reasons:

  1. When the RD called the Safety Car intervention, the announcement was made over the RMC which all Teams are obliged to monitor under Rule D21.2.1. The RD specifically said that there was a car off at Turn 23;
  2. Secondly, all Teams have a live broadcast feed of the FOX Television coverage of every race in their garage. The live pictures of Car 27 off in the sand trap at the exit of Turn 23 were broadcast within just a few seconds of the incident having occurred and were replayed when the Safety Car intervention commenced;
  3. Although Car #17 has a different Engineer to Car #12’s Engineer, it is telling that the Team Radio Communications between Car #17’s Engineer and the Driver of Car #17 after the Safety Car intervention commenced there was no suggestion of debris on the circuit and no suggestion that the Driver of Car #17 needed to slow or exercise extreme caution. To the contrary, a recording of the Team Radio communications between Car #17’s Engineer and the Driver of Car #17 which was tendered by the DRD revealed that immediately after the Safety Car intervention was announced by the RD over RMC, Car #17’s Engineer told the Driver of Car #17 to “push”.

The Stewards had also questioned the Driver of Car #12. He was asked why he had driven so slowly and told the Stewards he did so because he had been directed to do so by the Team. He said that he believed that there must have been debris in a blind or dangerous position somewhere on the circuit. He said that he did not know what had caused the Safety Car intervention, and we accept his evidence in that regard because it had occurred behind him. We also have some sympathy for the Driver of Car #12 to a point. We accept that because he was told that there was debris on the circuit, it was not unreasonable for him to have slowed initially, particularly over the mountain where a number of turns are blind. However, the Stewards showed the Driver of Car #12 footage captured by the Judicial Camera from his Car which showed him driving extraordinarily slowly out of Turn 18 and all the way down Conrod Straight where a Driver has a line of sight for hundreds of metres. The Driver of Car #12 acknowledged that he had a clear line of sight at least from that point and that there was no debris to be seen. He was asked whether it had occurred to him that he should not continue to drive so slowly given that he had the majority of the field banked up behind him. He said that he was aware that there were multiple Cars in procession behind him and said that he understood that he was holding those Cars up. He was asked why he continued to do so notwithstanding that there was nothing in his line of sight to justify him to continue to drive so slowly. He said that he was focussing on his Race and complying with the direction of the Team.

At the request of the Stewards, the DRD called the DSA, a very experienced former Supercars Driver and someone who has a good working understanding of the information available to a Team in its pit garage. The DSA told the Stewards that, in his view:

  1. It is inconceivable that personnel in DJRTP’s garage did not know the reason for the Safety Car intervention and the location of the Incident;
  2. While it is true that when a Car in procession behind the Safety Car travelling at only 60 kph in close proximity to the rear of the Car ahead, the engine temperature of the Car may increase because air-flow over the radiator is reduced in these circumstances. However, if a Car is overheating, the best way to reduce engine temperature is to use less throttle, use the highest gear possible, and use speed to maximise air-flow.
  3. The suggestion that Car #12 needed to slow to the extent that it did to reduce engine temperature is illogical, particularly when at that point in time the Safety Car was behind Car #12 and had not picked up the leader with the consequence that Car #12 could travel at a much higher speed with nominal throttle and in top gear downhill to reduce engine temperature.
  4. Driving at such an extraordinarily slow speed, even with nominal throttle and at high gear will exacerbate overheating problems because the slow pace of the Car will mean reduced air flow over the radiator.

We accept this evidence. The Stewards asked the Authorised Representative of DJRTP, Car #12’s Engineer and the Driver of Car #12 whether they agreed that engine temperatures were reduced in circumstances described by the DSA. They agreed.

Submissions relevant to Penalty

The DRD submitted that the conduct of DJRTP in giving a direction to the Driver of Car #12 to slow unnecessarily at the result of conferring an unfair advantage on DJRTP in the Race. He submitted that the conduct of DJRTP reflects a serious departure from the Obligation of Fairness in the FIA Code of Conduct and that a severe Penalty is warranted.

The highest fine ever imposed on a Competitor for any breach of the Supercars Rules is AUD200,000. That concerned a breach of the testing prohibitions.

The Stewards have no authority to impose a fine in excess of EUR250,000. Further, under Rule B7.7.2 of the Manual, the Stewards have no power to deduct more than 300 Championship Points from a Team or a Driver.

We agreed with the DRD that the conduct of DJRTP demands a severe Penalty, not just because it was intentionally engaged in to give the Team an advantage but because it was done in a way that reflected a calculated attempt to conceal why it was being done.

We do not attribute what occurred to an impulsive ill-considered decision by Car #12’s Engineer alone. In our view, the Engineer was merely a conduit through whom a direction conceived by a more senior representative of the Team was implemented. The Authorised Representative told us that he did not give the direction and had no knowledge that it had been given. He told us that he knew that there was no debris on the circuit prior to the Pit Entry because he had seen the FOX broadcast which showed Car #27 at Turn 23. He could not recall if he heard the RD specifically mention the location of the Incident over RMC. He explained that his headset has inputs from RMC, the Race Engineers for both Cars #12 and #17, the Team Manager and the Chief Strategist. He explained that RMC does not have priority in the DJRTP radio network and in the lead up to pit stops he hears multiple communications which often are overlapping. He said that had he heard the communication from Car #12’s Engineer to the Driver of Car #12 he would have intervened. He also said that had he known just how big a gap there was between Cars #17 and #12 he would have intervened. He accepted full responsibility for not monitoring the communications closely enough. We were impressed by the Authorised Representative’s evidence. We consider him to be credible and we have no reason not to accept his evidence as to his state of mind.

However, we are unable to reach any conclusion other than that someone else in the DJRTM Team conceived of a strategy to give knowingly false information to the Driver of Car #12 to cause Car #12 to slow. The Authorised Representative told us that he had since made enquiries within the Team to attempt to ascertain what had happened and had been assured by the Engineer of Car #12 that he had made an innocent mistake. We reject that suggestion. The Authorised Representative told us that because of the known overheating issues with Car #12 there had been extensive discussion within the Team as to how to deal with its next pit stop and the need to add water to the radiator. He explained that the sole concern for the Team was that with a double stack Car #12 would be sitting in Pit Lane for approximately 20 seconds and the engine temperature would rise to a potentially catastrophic level. He denied that there was any intention to advantage Car #17.

We are prepared to assume that there was no intention to advantage Car #17, however, it defies belief that the Engineer of Car #12 just happened to have formed a mistaken belief that there was debris at some unknown location on the circuit and that just fortuitously resulted in the very problem anticipated with Car #12 being resolved. We find, and it has been admitted, that in giving the direction to the Driver of Car #12, DJRTP infringed the principles of fairness in competition and behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner. We do not find that there was an attempt to influence the result of the Race but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the result was affected to a degree, certainly for Car #12 that would otherwise have re-joined the circuit after its pit stop in a much lower position.

We agree with the DRD that, putting to one side other components of the recommended Penalty, a substantial Fine is called for, not the least as a deterrent to all other Teams from engaging in similar conduct. We are willing to suspend part of that Fine only because we have never had cause to sanction DJRTP for any unsportsmanship type breach in the past, DJRTP co-operated fully with the Stewards Inquiry, has co-operated with the DRD’s prosecution of the Charge and has pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

As indicated above, the Stewards have no power to impose a Points Penalty exceeding 300 Championship Points. We impose that maximum Penalty.

We also agree with the amendment of the Classifications to demote Car #12 to the final Classified finishing position of 21st which, will mean a consequent loss of further Teams Championship Points for DJRTP (the Provisional Classifications have Car #12 in 6th position). It will also mean a loss of Championship Points for the Drivers of Car #12. For the reasons explained above, this is not unfair given that the Driver of Car #12 was to a degree complicit in what occurred.

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