Supercars officials faced accusations of bias after Shane van Gisbergen was let off the hook for a wheel spin in pit lane at Pukekohe.
The title-changing decision has been likened to Billy Slater’s shoulder charge downgrade prior to the NRL grand final, given the high stakes in New Zealand.
The Red Bull HRT driver won Saturday’s 200km race by just half a second over his championship rival and fellow Kiwi Scott McLaughlin in an electric contest.
But for much of the race and for three hours afterwards, his championship hopes were in the hands of race stewards as they considered how to respond to his pit lane blunder.
Van Gisbergen clearly spun his rear wheels after having his tyres changed, a big no-no in a sport which puts safety at a premium.
The race result leaves van Gisbergen two points behind McLaughlin in the series standings.
But if he was handed the standard penalty for the offence – a pit-lane penalty – he could have lost around 100 points worth of ground on his rival.
Reading the rule book, which states “wheels must not be rotating while the car is being lowered to the ground”, it seemed an open and shut case.
Though not to officials, who decided that the wheels needed to complete a full revolution for a breach – and that wasn’t clear from replays.
“Consistent with previous determinations of the DRD, when investigating if a breach of Rule D11.8.8 has occurred, the rear wheels must complete in excess of one full revolution for the imposition of a penalty to be recommended to the Stewards,” the determination read.
Fans streamed online to vent steam at the decision, which has been protested by McLaughlin’s DJR Team Penske.
“Corruption at its finest! What a joke the sport has become!” was the top comment on popular racing website Speedcafe.
Hundreds of others shared similar views on different forums in the aftermath of the decision.
Australian driver David Reynolds stirred the pot on Twitter, writing “If the wheels spin in pit lane and there’s no one around to film it, do they spin?”
He poked fun at the officials’ interpretation of the rules by quoting the rule above and noting “some rules are hard to read and interpret … this is an example” in a sarcastic follow-up.
Reynolds was the last driver to suffer a pit-lane penalty for wheel spinning, a punishment imposed at Bathurst last month as he duelled for the race lead with eventual winner Craig Lowndes while suffering from cramp.