Sato criticised by rivals for “disgraceful” driving after Pocono wreck

by Jordan Groves

After a crash on the opening lap of Sunday’s 2019 NTT IndyCar Series ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato has garnered criticism from rivals, pundits and fans for his part in the accident. Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi led the criticism, calling Sato’s actions “disgraceful”.

The incident took place whilst Sato was running side-by-side with both Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay on the run down into turn two on the opening lap of the two-hundred lap race. Sato was on the outside of Rossi and Hunter-Reay approaching the turn and appeared to come down into the path of Rossi. The contact triggered a pile-up at turn two, which saw all three eliminated from the race along with James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist; with the latter being sent into a terrifying flight into the catch fencing on the outside of the track.

Thankfully, all five drivers were, for the most part, uninjured in the accident. Sato, Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe were all checked and cleared from the infield care centre shortly after the accident, whilst Rosenqvist was sent to a nearby trauma centre to further evaluations. He, too, was later cleared and released.

Rosenqvist’s accident bore a terrifying resemblance to the incident seen at the same corner at the same race twelve months ago, where Robert Wickens was sent into the catch fence and was left paralysed from the waist down as a result of the crash. Thankfully for Felix, his #10 Chip Ganassi Racing car was not sent on as violent a ride as Wickens had been a year previously.

With many drivers, teams and fans still very aware of the dangers of IndyCar racing at Pocono Raceway in the wake of Wickens’ crash last year, the crash in yesterday’s race was not taken well at all. The incident added further fuel to the fire for drivers and fans who wish to see IndyCar stop racing at Pocono Raceway due to safety issues. What’s more, however, the incident saw Sato receive heavy criticism from fans, pundits and his fellow drivers in the aftermath of the crash.

After being checked and released from the infield care centre following the accident yesterday, Alexander Rossi described the incident with Sato from his point of view and went on to say that he thought that Takuma’s actions were unacceptable, especially after Robert Wickens’ crash at Pocono in 2018.

Obviously, I didn’t get a good start – so that’s on me,” Rossi said post-race, “But we were three-wide; Ryan [Hunter-Reay] was on the inside, I was in the middle and Takuma was on the outside. I can’t even begin to understand how after last year Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable. To turn across two cars, at that speed, in that corner at a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and may have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting. This team works too hard to have something like that happen.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe also commented on the wreck yesterday and how he thought that it was far too early in the race to be making risky moves like the one Takuma made on the opening lap of two-hundred:

It’s a 500-mile race, I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people figure out that you can attack all you want, but it doesn’t give you a chance to win if you are in the fence.”

When Sato himself was checked and released from the care centre, he expressed his regret at being involved in a wreck that eliminated one of the championship contenders:

“I am sorry for all the guys fighting for the championship,” Sato said, “Ryan and I were obviously racing on the exit of turn one and it looks like Alexander had a slow start. We both went right and left and I thought it was all clear. All the seams [on the racing surface] also are putting the car really easy to get the lane change and everybody gets close. Unfortunately, it looks like we made contact for that.”

Later, Sato took to social media with an argument that he had not been the cause of the incident and that, instead, Rossi had moved up into him.

“I feel I need to say a word,” Sato said on Twitter, “I’m sorry I was involved with Alexander Rossi for the championship. Looks like he was squeezed [by] both Ryan and I, and if you reference seams [the lines on the racing surface], Alex clearly moved up. We all racing very close and unfortunately, we made contact.”

Unhappy with Sato’s remarks, however, Rossi was quick to respond to Sato’s tweet, saying: “I think you’ll find that if you watch the video, it was you moving down trying to get ole Scotty D [Scott Dixon]’s tow which caused this whole situation. #tryagain.”

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

Sato, however, would still refuse to take responsibility for the incident. He would tweet again later in the evening with an onboard video from his car during the accident, writing: “I didn’t mean I was blaming Alex at all. I just said the facts and I apologized for the situation on my previous tweet. Now I show you this as well that I just drove straight.”

It was not just the drivers involved in the incident who commented on the matter post-race, however. Fellow drivers and pundits also weighed in on the issue.

Sato’s team-mate at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Graham Rahal, commented on the incident in post-race interviews and criticised Sato, saying: “The disappointing thing is that you have 499 miles to go. We know the risks at this track. Takuma went three-wide there and he was giving them the sign ‘I’m coming’ and there was just no space to do that.”

Others, including former series champion and current commentator for NBC, Paul Tracy, called for IndyCar to suspend Takuma Sato for his actions in the race. According to some sources at Pocono Raceway yesterday, it was announced over the speedway’s PA system that Sato would be recieving a post-race fine for causing avoidable contact, but that has not been officially confirmed as of now. The possibility of any further punishment has also not been spoken about as of the time of writing.

The debate still continues as to who, ultimately, was at fault for yesterday’s wreck. As time goes on and tempers cool down, more people are starting to change their minds on the incident after reviewing various videos from the crash. Many have been looking at the steering angles of both Rossi and Sato before the accident, but it can be hard to properly tell which subtle movements a driver was making at the time could have contributed to the incident, as IndyCar’s on ovals naturally stagger in a straight-line to make turning left through the corners easier.

Additionally, there have been a number of people who have called Scott Dixon‘s actions into question after the reigning champion appeared to touch wheels with Rossi, slowing Alexander’s momentum and thus leaving him vulnerable to the following incident with Sato. However, the exchange between Dixon and Rossi is routine in oval races and, arguably, the crash afterwards should have been avoided by the drivers regardless of what happened between Rossi and Dixon.

The most important thing, however, is not to establish blame as to who caused the accident. Instead, we must all be thankful that all five drivers involved in the incident were able to walk away virtually unscathed.

After the drama of Pocono, the teams and drivers of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series do not have long to wait until their next race. Just three races remain until the season’s end and the series will be back in action this weekend on Saturday, August 24 for the 2019 Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park.

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