By: Tanner Watkins
August 18, 2019 | 5:30 PM
While rumors surrounding Pocono Raceway’s future on the IndyCar calendar were readily apparent entering this weekend’s ABC Supply 500, a first-lap accident in Sunday’s race brought emotions and opinions from many – calling into question the track’s place in open-wheel racing moving forward.
Sunday afternoon’s crash began when Takuma Sato made a questionable (at best) decision to pull down across the noses of Andretti Autosport teammates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. In the post-accident media scrum, Sato said he thought he was clear.
After the race, Sato defended his case on Twitter: “I feel I need to say a word. 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, Alex clearly moved up. We all racing very close and unfortunately we made contact.”
The post-race comments are intesting, considering Sato thought he was clear in the moment and made a deliberate move to enter Turn 2. Even if Sato knew he wasn’t clear – simply expecting Rossi and Hunter-Reay to back out of the three-wide scenario to yield the position – it was more than an opportunistic attempt to gain positions at the race start.
Considering the history of accidents which Pocono has been plagued with recently, Sato’s first-lap decision was reckless, foolish, and simply unacceptable from a driver with his experience and accolades.
NBC Sports commentator Paul Tracy put pressure on INDYCAR on-air by stating Sato should receive a suspension for the incident. “That accident, after what happened last year, Sato … needs a hard look at a suspension or something for that type of driving.”
Here is what drivers in the accident had to say about the Lap 1 aggressiveness and racing at Pocono Raceway.
“I can’t even begin to understand, after last year, how Takuma thinks any sort of driving like that is acceptable. To turn across two cars at speed in that corner in a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting, and might cost us this championship.”
“It is just ridiculous. Thank God everybody is alright. I thought we had learned our lesson here… Lap one of a 500-mile race. From my perspective, I had a nice, clean run on Rossi. I was almost three-quarters of the way up past him, then all of a sudden, out of nowhere (I) was backwards. I saw myself hit the inside wall and then coming back into traffic – I could see the field coming as I am backing into it and I thought, ‘This could get really bad.’ Then I saw Felix get up into the fence and now we have fence repairs again… it is just so unfortunate at the beginning of a 500-mile race.”
Continued, after NBC Sports’ Robin Miller asked about drivers racing with respect at Pocono: “You would think so after all of the lessons we have learned here.”
“It is a 500-mile race man – I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people find 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 asked by Miller if the drivers had discussions about driving safely and with respect before the race: “I mean, lets call a spade a spade: After last year, I didn’t think anybody had to say anything. It is just crazy, man. It is such a waste of time and money and energy for everyone to come out here to do a 500-mile race, and then half of the top-ten end up in the fence in Turn 2.”
In the aftermath of the accident, many members of the IndyCar community had words for the events which transpired on Lap 1, as well as the series’ history at Pocono in recent years. This included members of the IndyCar community offering their thoughts on the situation.
One such individual who voiced their opinion was Robert Wickens, the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver who was injured in an early-race accident last year at Pocono which has seen him sidelined from racing competition while he rehabs his serious injuries.
“How many times do we have to go through the same situation before we can all accept that an IndyCar should not race at Pocono,” Wickens asked publicly on Twitter. “It’s just a toxic relationship and maybe it’s time to consider a divorce. I’m very relieved (to my knowledge) that everyone is okay from that scary crash.”
Check out what others had to say – including drivers who were in the race, plus a couple others who have moved to part-time roles in IndyCar.
“It is tough – at the end of the day, when it is a 500-mile race, I don’t think you are really going to win it on the first lap. But you can’t say that was the (only) issue, either. It sounded like Sato had a pretty good run, but I haven’t seen the replay on how they connected.”
Dixon, continued in a conversation with Dillon Welch of NBC Sports: “I feel bad for Pocono. Honestly, these things can happen at a lot of the tracks that we go to. This place has just had a rough run with some of the incidents we have had and weather as well. It is a tough track – one that rewards you well when you get it right, and I just feel bad for everyone who works here.”
“The disappointing thing is, you have 499 miles to go and you’ve got to be patient. We know the risks at this track, too, so when you see that and you watch it all, it is pretty tough.”
“It is weird – we are (on) Lap 1 of a 200-lap race. There is so much racing to go, and the fact that you have an incident like that… I don’t know. I don’t quite get it.”
Continued, Ferrucci in an interview with Welch: “You have to take care of each other. This track is super dangerous. You are going speeds above 220, 230 (mph) – especially on the start when we are all packed up like this. It is up to us to take care of each other and make sure that we all come home at the end of the day. To have something like that happen, it is just kind of heartbreaking.”
“Glad to see everyone is OK. Never a good feeling when you see something like that especially when it’s your brothers. Think the answer is clear that we should not be here. In my opinion, that question was answered awhile ago,” said Karam on Twitter.
“I don’t want people to think that I dislike Pocono. I think it’s a great track it’s just not meant for IndyCars. We need to be smart and move on and go to tracks that fit these cars. I love oval racing and want it in IndyCar – I just simply don’t love IndyCar at Pocono.”
“So glad to see everyone walk away from that one. They (IndyCar) shouldn’t be there anyway,” said Chilton on Twitter.
Simply put, if the conversation about Pocono was heated before this race weekend began, the flames have spread now. Personally, I believe Pocono is a fantastic, challenging track to have on the IndyCar circuit.
As Dixon noted, it will push teams and drivers to compromise on its unique three-corner design while trying to engineer the best car possible, and the reward is gratifying when you get it all right. And quite frankly, if we had avoided an accident like today’s – which could have happened without the one unfortunate decision at the front of the pack – the narrative about Pocono would have been much different this afternoon.
With that being said, this seems to be an indicator of Pocono’s future in IndyCar, and we may have just watched our last open-wheel laps at the Tricky Triangle for the foreseeable future. I hope I am wrong.
Header image by Chris Owens/INDYCAR.