<
>

Was Herta's spin intentional? Wouldn't be a first

The buzz after the last weekend's IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma wasn't so much about rookie Marco Andretti's first IRL race win as the caution period that made it possible.

The budding 19-year-old star was in the lead trying to stretch his fuel to the finish and he desperately needed a yellow. Lo and behold, he got it when -- of all people -- his Andretti Green Racing teammate Bryan Herta spun and stalled.

My first thought when Herta did his little loop was "You have got to be kidding me!" and it seems I wasn't the only one brewing up conspiracy theories. Herta, a "Road Course Specialist" in NASCAR parlance, would normally be the last guy on the IRL grid to make such a fundamental error at a track like Infineon Raceway.

But sometimes teamwork works in mysterious ways.

"There's no doubt he spun on purpose," commented defending series champion Dan Wheldon, who was right behind Herta in eighth place to witness the most celebrated "'Spin to Win" since Danny Sullivan's at Indy in 1985. "Bryan definitely took one for the team today and that's not how any race should be decided."

Herta's a stand-up guy, but he was aware of Marco's dire fuel situation. He's also smart enough to know what a win for Marco would mean to his team boss Michael Andretti -- and to the Indy Racing League in terms of publicity.

Herta claimed he was simply trying too hard.

"We still had a shot at the top five," he said. "Anyone who has known me for 13 years of Indy-car racing would never accuse me of that. I have sponsors to answer to.

"Late in the race I had some good runs under braking into Turn 9 and I just got on the power too early and the car came around."

It's not the first time that questionable tactics were used to help a teammate win a race and despite the efforts of sanctioning bodies from the FIA to NASCAR, it certainly won't be the last. Here are some other memorable examples of "teamwork" from the past that might qualify for Esquire magazine's "Dubious Achievement Awards."

Indy Racing League

Last October in the IRL finale at California Speedway, Andretti Green's Tony Kanaan appeared to slow exiting the final corner to hand the win to his teammate Dario Franchitti. "Tony hasn't told me much, but it definitely looked like he lifted," Franchitti said immediately after the race. "I'll ply him with alcohol and try to get the answer."

Kanaan claimed his Honda engine faltered and denied he handed Franchitti the win.

"It's my word against yours," Kanaan said.

Franchitti finished second behind Marco Andretti at Infineon on Sunday. And Kanaan's engine really did hesitate there -- in fact, he ran out of fuel on the final lap trying to run the same strategy that worked for Marco.

Formula One

The Ferrari F1 team has been up to shenanigans for decades. But at the recent Turkish Grand Prix, an untimely Safety Car meant the Scuderia was unable to orchestrate team orders and as a result, Felipe Massa scored his first Grand Prix victory.

However, Ferrari was much more successful at staging results during the years when Michael Schumacher was teamed with Rubens Barrichello. The most famous occasion occurred at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, where Barrichello basically pulled over and parked to allow Schumacher to take the win. A couple months later at Indianapolis, Michael tried to give Rubens a gifted win in return, but Barrichello didn't seem to know what to do and Schumacher crossed the line inches ahead. The seven-time World Champion lamely claimed he was trying to stage a dead heat with his teammate.

Another famous Ferrari episode occurred at the 1975 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Niki Lauda was trying to fend off the McLaren driven by Emerson Fittipaldi when they came up to lap Lauda's Ferrari teammate, Clay Regazzoni. The normally gentlemanly Swiss was anything but on this occasion with some blatant weaving and blocking. By the time Fittipaldi got by, Lauda was 15 seconds up the road and on the way to Victory Circle.

A couple years ago, I asked Fittipaldi about that race.

"I think that's part of racing, to help your teammate," he said. "But I think there is a limit. Clay went over the limit and they black-flagged him.

"What happened with Ferrari in 2002 is very critical for the image of motorsport and it was wrong," he added. "I think the people who buy tickets to watch a race and the TV spectators want to see racing. If you need to change positions to help somebody win the championship at the end of the season, then do it. But don't do what we saw in Austria or Indianapolis. It's an offense to the public."

Champ Car

Patrick Carpentier scored his first win in the CART Champ Car series in controversial circumstances at Michigan International Speedway in 2001 when his Forsythe Racing teammate Alex Tagliani, running a lap down, mixed it up with the leaders in the closing laps and nearly caused a big accident.

Dario Franchitti and Michel Jourdain Jr. swapping the lead of the Michigan race when Tagliani and Paul Tracy, running a lap down in sixth and seventh, suddenly sprinted to the front of the pack.

Carpentier took the lead on the 248th of 250 laps, but on the final lap, Franchitti went high past Jourdain and moved to the front as the pack exited Turn 2. Tagliani suddenly made a banzai move past all three leading cars into Turn 3, blasting through on the inside before drifting up the track. He nearly hit Jourdain, who had to drift up the track into a space Franchitti already occupied.

"Tag came in as the spoiler and his move was very dangerous," Franchitti said. "Unfortunately, he was a lap down and his move was designed for one thing."

"I think when you go a lap down earlier in the race here, it's up to you to try and stay ahead of the guy using the same kind of etiquette you would use when passing for position," Dario added.

Carpentier saw both sides.

"I had no idea he was coming and at first I thought, 'What is he doing?' " Carpentier recalled. "Then I saw he could help, and I guess that's what teams are for. When he came, it was a risky move, but it changed everything."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.