It's been quite a journey since my last column for RACER, so let's get started.
First, the Baltimore Grand Prix was remarkable. For a first-time event, it was a big success. The crowd was great, with plenty of enthusiasm. It's always fun to race in front of big, eager crowds.
We had a very scary moment there, though. During morning practice on race day, my friend Tony Kanaan lost his brakes while going 160mph. He hit my Shell-Pennzoil Team Penske car to slow down his car, flew over me and crashed hard into the tire barrier. It wasn't very pretty from where I sat, so my first thought was that he was hurt. I didn't know what to expect, but I was worried about my friend.
I jumped out of my car and ran to him to try to help him. But when I saw him, to my surprise, he wasn't worried about himself. He was concerned about my car. He was apologetic for crashing into me. I was like, “Dude, forget about my car!” Honestly, I'm glad I was there. It would have been much worse if he hadn't been able to use my car to help him slow down a little bit before he hit the tires.
Tony is a lifelong friend. We've known each other since we were kids. He's always been a great competitor on the track, and a great friend away from it. I was so thankful that he was OK, because the view I had of the crash was frightening.
Our race results at Baltimore weren't what we hoped for as we got caught up behind the big multi-car accident midway through the race and my car was the last one to get restarted and, as a result, we fell a lap down. That was certainly frustrating but it was another good win for my teammate, Will Power, as he continues to fight for the championship.
Since then, I've been around the world. I went home to Brazil to serve as a judge in the Miss Universe contest – a tremendous honor for me. As you know, racecar drivers like to hang out with beautiful women. I've already found my own Miss Universe in my girlfriend Adriana, but it was great to be a part of this.
The Miss Universe pageant isn't just a beauty contest. It's about charisma, poise and intelligence, so we judged the contestants based on many attributes. Miss Angola was a deserving winner, although they were all deserving. It was a difficult choice, but I enjoyed every minute of it [That's a real surprise…Ed.] and it was awesome to have my hometown of Sao Paulo host such a terrific event.
Then, with my bags packed for Japan, I flew to Zurich and hopped on a flight for Tokyo. I arrived Thursday, so there wasn't much chance to adjust to the time change.
You've probably already seen my comments after the race in Japan. In the last few races, we've had some challenging situations that were handled differently and, I felt, inconsistently by Race Control. Baltimore was another example of this as we were the only ones to lose a lap to the leaders simply because we drew the short straw and were restarted last when many other cars were in the same situation.
At Motegi, we'd worked hard to battle back into the top 10 after a couple of incidents early in the race. We made some great decisions and worked our way back toward the front. I was extremely proud of our effort as a team at that point.
On the last lap, there were two cars off track at different places right after a restart. There were local yellow flags at both places, so we knew we weren't allowed to pass in those areas. At the time, I was chasing JR Hildebrand, and I mean I was right behind him heading into one of the local yellows. When you're that close, you don't see anything but the gearbox in front of you.
He bobbled just slightly so, instinctively, I completed the pass. There wasn't much I could do. It was either slam on the brakes to avoid passing him, which would have created an incident for JR and Dario Franchitti, who was also behind me, or complete the pass under local yellow and give the position back when I had a chance.
But after I made the pass, there was no good place to give the position back. I saw Dario there, right behind Hildebrand, and realized I couldn't safely let JR back by me without also letting Dario go, so I decided to just hold the position for the final lap with the assumption that Race Control would penalize me that one position and I'd finish eighth instead of seventh.
I had passed under yellow to avoid creating a safety concern and fully intended to give the position back. But I also couldn't do that safely, considering the closeness of the traffic just after a restart, so I decided to just stay where I was and trust the officials to determine the proper finishing order. That's why I was shocked when I heard we'd been docked 15 positions and scored 22nd. I did not expect that at all, and that's part of the reason I got so angry. A lot of you heard those comments, and I sincerely hope you weren't offended, but I was just expressing my emotions at the time.
I believe what we need as racers is clarity regarding what the rules are and what the penalties will be if those rules aren't followed: It's that simple. In my case, I should have known a) how much time I had to give the position back to avoid a penalty and, b) what that penalty would be if I didn't give the position back in that time frame.
Some penalties, obviously, are judgment calls. Issues like blocking are naturally discretionary. It's in the eye of the race officials, and I understand that. But even then, again, we should know what the officials expect and what the penalties will be. In our current situation, I don't feel the drivers always know what to expect and I think the rulings aren't applied consistently.
Next year, the IZOD IndyCar Series will begin a new chapter in its history – brand-new cars and new engines, a new look and a new sound. I care deeply about this series and we have so much potential and promise. I think next season would also be the perfect time to move into a new chapter of consistency and clarity in officiating, too.
• Follow Helio and Team Penske on Twitter, at @H3lio and @PenskeRacing.
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the November 2011 issue of RACER magazine, which is NOT available on newsstands. CLICK HERE to subscribe.