Notes: Hinchcliffe, Bourdais tagged with engine penalties

Both drivers suffer 10-spot penalty on Long Beach starting grid

When a report came out that James Hinchcliffe would suffer a 10-spot penalty on the starting grid for Sunday’s race in Long Beach after suffering engine problems on his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet, the reaction from fans on social media was decisively negative — growing to the point where INDYCAR race director Beaux Barfield took it upon himself to talk about the subject on Twitter.

Per INDYCAR engine rules, a powerplant needs to go 1,850 miles before it can be changed out without the aforementioned penalty; if the engine doesn’t reach that mileage point before it gets changed out, it’s unapproved. However, important issues of cost containment aside, fans appeared to be annoyed over the fact that Hinchcliffe could get penalized for his engine blowing up in a test session, not an event weekend.

Nonetheless, INDYCAR has announced that Hinchcliffe will be hit with the 10-spot call for Long Beach. Also getting hit is Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, whose engine needed to replaced after he finished ninth at Barber Motorsports Park two weeks ago.

A bit of thinking reveals both sides of the coin. With full-fledged engine wars returning this season, INDYCAR has to keep the costs down and also ensure that the manufacturers don’t get cute with “special” engines. Thus, the 1,850-mile marker and other rules, such as the limit of five “fresh” engines for each team this season.

But when you consider that the engines for Long Beach have been used for two major tests this month at Indianapolis and Sonoma, it brings up a valid argument for test-only powerplants. If those existed, chances are we would’ve seen faster speeds at the IMS test and teams not curtailing testing to save their race engines. There’s still plenty to be learned about the Dallara DW12, so every bit of track time is important.

The rule is clear and INDYCAR is certainly running with precedent, as Hinchcliffe and Bourdais’ engine penalties are the fourth and fifth such violations so far in 2012. But perhaps this is one matter that needs to be re-addressed at a later time.

RHR aims to contend again at Long Beach

After winning in 2010 and battling for another victory last season before gearbox problems sidelined him late, Ryan Hunter-Reay will look to once again play a pivotal role in the outcome at Long Beach.

The American driver heads back to the Beach this weekend after falling three spots to sixth in the championship last weekend at Barber. But he’s still high on his chances to contend for the title.

“We’re going to try our best to make it all work this year,” Hunter-Reay said. “We all know we can do it. I feel absolute confidence within myself I can get it done. We just need to be consistent.”

As for this weekend, RHR believes that performing well will come down to staying on top of car setup.

“Every session will be going out trying to make the car better,” he said. “It’s still such a learning process with [the DW12]. Every street circuit we go to, every road course we go to, needs different settings from the car. That’s what we’ll be concentrating on.

“With the weather we may have this weekend, it’s going to make it that much more difficult, because the track is going to be constantly changing.”

Temperatures are expected to be a bit cooler than normal this weekend at Long Beach, hanging in the 50s and 60s. Also, rain is expected to fall on Friday, which could make for an interesting opening day of activity.

Al Unser Jr. pleads guilty in DWI case

The Associated Press reports that two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. has pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and racing another car at speeds over 100 miles per hour last September on an freeway in Albuquerque, N.M.

Unser Jr. was sentenced to 90 days in prison, but according to the AP, a judge has deferred that sentence. Instead, the racing legend will undergo 364 days of supervised probation.

Quotes/materials from league releases were used in the making of this article.