First, there were two happy Canadians as Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 drew to a close. Scott Goodyear was going to win and Jacques Villeneuve, after an uphill battle, was going to finish second.
Then Goodyear passed one car too many, and suddenly, in the wave of a black flag, there were an ecstatic Villeneuve and a shattered Goodyear, trying to understand what had happened to him.
In an apparently flagrant breach of racing etiquette, Goodyear, the race leader, whipped past the pace car as the field was about to resume racing for the last nine laps after a caution period, putting about a straightaway between him and the rest of the field.
And putting himself in a world of hurt.
Goodyear was black-flagged repeatedly - that means he was supposed to make a penalty stop-and-go visit to his pit - but stayed on the track, finished first then tried to take what he figured was his rightful place in Victory Lane.
Uh-uh, said the sanctioning United States Auto Club, which had stopped scoring Goodyear’s car when he failed to observe the penalty, and gave the checkered flag to Villeneuve, who himself had felt USAC’s bite for passing the pace car - a two-lap penalty earlier in the race.
Villeneuve, saying he would gladly have settled for second after that misadventure, acknowledged his transgression, blaming it on confusion as to which car was leading during a round of pit stops. Goodyear acknowledged his, too, but said right was on his side.
“The biggest issue, for myself, was that when I was going past the pace car, I looked up and saw green. When you see the green light, that means go. So I think that’s where we’ll sit with it, and we’ll have to wait for the officials to make their decision.”
Unfortunately for Goodyear and car owner Steve Horne, that decision has long since been made.
The light might have been green - Chief Stewart Tom Binford denied that it was and videotape seemed to support it - but that’s not the issue, as far as USAC is concerned.
“The pace car is in control,” Binford said. “The drivers have the responsibility of remaining behind the pace car. The only time you can pass the pace car is when you are waved by. If (Goodyear) said he was pulling next to the pace car, that’s a violation in itself.”
Villeneuve, who finished second last year as a rookie, could only grin and agree.
“Even if the light is green, you can’t overtake the pace car,” he said. “To pass the pace car, it has to be in the pits. It’s your job to let the pace car go away.”
And if Goodyear was implying that there were problems throughout the race with the pace car, Binford suggested it was with the race drivers, not the pace car driver, Don Bailey, whom Binford described as a 10-year veteran.
Horne said he would not protest, referring to the incident as “a non-protestable situation.”
USAC’s position seemed clear on that score, though, so Goodyear’s posted 14th-place finish is not likely to change and he and Horne will have to settle for comforting one another.
“When I saw the black flag, I was in disbelief,” Goodyear said. “And that was followed by coming down pit lane and being waved on past Victory Circle… . I think ‘disbelief’ is the best term for how I feel.”
In 1992, Goodyear was on the wrong end of the closest race in 500 history, losing to Al Unser Jr. by half a car length, 0.043 of a second.
This one could have been his.
And in Horne’s mind, it was.
“Thanks,” the car owner said, shaking his driver’s hand. “Thanks for winning the race.”
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