Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Enge situation

I feel bad for Tomas Enge. The likeable Czech driver admittedly pulled some very boneheaded moves at the Lime Rock round of the American Le Mans Series, but his dismissal from his team for on-track contact with another car at Mid-Ohio last weekend seems like a serious case of overkill.

Enge has always been known for his no-holds-barred, old-school driving style. An article by Malcolm Cracknell on Daily Sportscar compared him quite rightly to the late Gilles Villeneuve:

"Both could legitimately be accused of over-driving at times, both undoubtedly cost their respective teams extra outlay for repairs, but both were/are good, old-fashioned drivers with, we’d suggest, not an ounce of malicious intent between them."

At Lime Rock he made a number of questionable passes on both backmarkers and cars with whom he was racing for position, and caused both Risi Competizione Ferraris to crash, as well as one of the Tafel Motorsport Porsche GT3s. He accepted responsibility for the accidents and was placed on probation.

His team, looking to appear upstanding, supported the decision of the officials, and pledged to fire Enge should he incur any more penalties. This, in retrospect, was a bad move: a botched call by the officials would now require the team to either fire their driver for doing nothing wrong, or go back on their word and appear two-faced.

Unfortunately, the call at Mid-Ohio was a bad one. Enge was involved in what can best be described as a racing incident. He was racing closely behind the Risi Ferrari of Mika Salo, but being careful to not try any aggressive moves. Coming into a corner, Salo was suddenly balked by a prototype car, causing him to slow suddenly, and Enge ran into the back of him. It caused minor damage to the Risi car, requiring them to pit. Hardly Enge's fault...

Officials, conscious that the spotlight was on Enge's driving, chose to impose a 5-minute stop-and-go penalty. This punishment hardly fitted the crime, and seemed to be vindictive more than anything else. Sadly, the penalty forced the team to fire Enge on the spot. He got out of the car after the minimum 45-minute stint and was dismissed there and then.

What is worse to me was the behavior of Salo. Following the incident with Enge, he came back and deliberately punted him off the track, causing both cars to spin. Salo admitted afterwards that it was revenge, pure and simple, but had the gall to accuse Enge of "playing" with powerful, dangerous cars. Salo's maneuver copped a two-minute penalty.

So let's dish out some blame here, because no-one smells of roses in this one:

  • Enge, for his idiotic driving at Lime Rock that got him in this mess in the first place
  • Petersen White Lightning, Enge's team, for making a pledge that basically took their ability to make personnel decision out of their hands
  • Salo, for inexcusably dangerous driving that should have been far more heavily penalized than Enge's innocent racing incident half a lap before
  • ALMS race officials, for inflicting a penalty that had absolutely nothing to do with what happened on track, and for not giving Salo a larger penalty
  • CBS Sports pitlane reporters for stirring the pot. Their interviews with those involved should have been much more tactful rather than looking to rile up their interviewees
The departure of Enge is a big loss. He's an exciting, fast, characterful driver who's good for the series to have. Hopefully another team will pick him up soon.

1 comment:

Mulsanne said...

Well said. I hope enge picks up another ride soon. I'm sure he will be at Petit Le Mans when teams usually need a guest driver.

I know Salo was mad, but that type of driving is really inexcusable and not what fans have come to expect in the ALMS.