Verizon IndyCar Series newcomers Juncos Racing were issued a penalty they really didn’t need in the moments leading up to Rene Binder’s fourth race on North American soil.
Though the Austrian driver fared better at the European-esque Barber Motorsports Park, Binder was consistently a couple seconds off the pace during his IndyCar debut on the streets of St. Petersburg — a story that continued as he made his first visit to the bumpy Raceway at Belle Isle Park.
Across Friday’s two practice sessions and Saturday’s qualifying for Race 1, Binder was an average of 3.9462 seconds off the pace.
Heavy crashes for Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci in Race 1 enabled Binder to finish 21st out of 23. On Sunday, he was again the last-placed car among those that saw the checkered flag as he finished four laps down to eventual winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Despite being remarkably off the pace, Binder lost only two of his four laps during the 70-lap second contest of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. The rest of the track position was lost while Juncos’ No. 32 Chevrolet sat motionless in the pit lane before the race truly began.
A bizarre crash for General Motors’ Mark Reuss in the Corvette pace car mere moments after leading 23 Indy cars out of pit lane to begin the first pace lap caused a nearly 40-minute delay, during which the field returned to the pits.
When it came time to bring the Chevrolet and Honda engines back to life and begin the race, Binder’s car wasn’t cooperating. The Speedway, Indiana-based team diagnosed a problem with the ECU and quickly replaced the component.
Ricardo Juncos and his crew soon found out, however, that working on the cars was not allowed during the delay before the pace laps even commenced.
“Unfortunately, we got penalized two laps for something that we didn’t do,” team owner Juncos told The Apex after the race.
“The ECU, which is a component that INDYCAR supplies, didn’t work. The car didn’t fire up, so we had to change the ECU.”
With not a single pace lap completed and certainly no progress made for the race itself, the team never expected to be penalized.
“They put a red flag for a race that never started,” Juncos continued. “I don’t understand how you put out a red flag for a race that never was green. But they put the red flag out and under red-flag conditions you cannot work on the car.
“We had to change the ECU — we were forced, because otherwise we are not racing. We were thinking it would be fine. We changed the ECU. They didn’t like it.”
Juncos brought his case up to INDYCAR, who stuck to their decision of issuing an in-race infraction despite no race being active.
“That’s the way the rules are and that’s it,” Juncos said. “I understand that there’s rules and you’ve got to follow the rules. At the same time, you have a pace car crashing and I feel like we didn’t do a mistake, from the team point of view.”
Already disadvantaged given Binder’s comfort in an Indy car, particularly on temporary street circuits, Juncos and his team had no choice but to spend the day running at the back in its ninth time participating in an IndyCar race. Still, the affable Argentinian team owner kept his spirits up.
“Under the circumstances and since we are starting last and we were so slow anyway, what’s the point for us? It was very bad to start two laps down. But it’s okay — it’s another learning aspect that I need to take and I’m taking it a positive way and we’ve got to move on.”
Next time Juncos hits the track to compete in North America’s premier open-wheel championship will be at Road America on June 22–24 as Alfonso Celis Jr. makes his IndyCar debut and joins Binder and Kyle Kaiser as a driver of the No. 32 entry in 2018.