Another Pocono NTT IndyCar Series race, another big accident. Back-seat drivers are coming out of the woodwork to eviscerate Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) driver Takuma Sato for his truly aggressive moves in the second turn of the first lap of Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 race.
Are they right? Is Sato wrong? Social media is all abuzz about what happened on the first lap. Should Indy cars even be racing at this Pennsylvania oval where Justin Wilson died and Robert Wickens was gravely injured? Wickens definitely believes INDYCAR, the sanctioning body for the United States’ prominent open-wheel series, should find another oval to contest besides this one.
“How many times do we have to go through the same situation before we can all accept that INDYCAR should not race at Pocono?” Wickens asked.
While Wickens obviously has personal reasons for his statement, he’s backed up by a few others in the paddock, including Sage Karam, whose debris struck and killed Wilson in 2015. Currently a part-time driver in the series, Karam, from nearby Nazareth, doesn’t put down the track: “I think it’s a great track; it’s just not meant for Indy cars,” he tweeted shortly after the collision between Sato, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist, who was injured when his car took a quick flying lesson.
The ABC Supply 500 was scheduled for 200 laps around Pocono’s 2.5-mile triangulated oval track. This collision – not calling it an accident – occurred on the first of those laps. Racers were a bit too racey at the start, seemingly forgetting that “in order to finish first, first you must finish” mandate. Was that due to the three weeks between races? How about the lack of qualifying the day before? Even with many different camera angles from inside the cockpits, the blame is sitting on Sato.
In its box score, INDYCAR noted that penalties would be set post-race. It’s now Monday afternoon and nothing has been said yet. Social media is looking for Sato’s head. Yet no one is asking for the promoters to exercise due diligence in the maintenance of their aging oval, nor for improvements to that circuit, where it’s easy for an Indy car going 225mph to get into trouble.
Would the current AFT (frontal collision avoidance) have helped Rosenqvist? That’s unlikely. Would better fencing and SAFER walls have assisted? How about the new aero screen currently in the final phases of development? Or how about an emphatic message from race director Kyle Novak to the 22 drivers assembled for a pre-race meeting? IMSA’s first such director, one Charlie Rainville, used to caution the troops: “I’ll have no crashes in the first turn!” Would anyone even listen to Rainville today?
INDYCAR’s 2020 schedule hasn’t been set in stone yet. This was Pocono’s last contractual year to hold a race. Turnout was good for the contest and many in the paddock love and respect the “Tricky Triangle.” It remains to be seen whether the sanctioning body and the track can find a happy compromise that keeps these projectiles at Pocono in the future.