Takuma Sato and Mikhail Aleshin walk away from their wrecked cars
There were plenty of hot tempers and obscenities on pit road during and after Saturday’s Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers. Can any of that ill will and hard feelings find its way into Sunday’s second race of the Verizon IndyCar doubleheader?
Saturday’s race on a wet race course had more than its share of drivers who were furious at others, as well as a profanity used by Texas racing legend A.J. Foyt after his driver, Takuma Sato, was taken out of contention for the victory in a crash with Russian rookie driver Mikhail Aleshin in Turn 6 on Lap 33.
The tempers culminated when Graham Rahal was drying off his tires while running in fourth place for what should have been a one-lap race to the checkered flag. But in doing so he slammed into the back of the third place car driven by 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winnerTony Kanaan.
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That guaranteed rookie driver Carlos Huertas would score his first IndyCar Series win.
Kanaan, a very hot-tempered driver from Brazil, did his best to control his emotions as he sat on pit wall contemplating what happened. Young Rahal accepted full responsibility for the incident but that didn’t calm Kanaan’s temper.
"Obviously I told Tony (Kanaan) I was sorry," Rahal said. "It was my mistake and I feel bad for Tony. With the stack up on the restart, I was trying to keep the tires as dry as I could and I was to the left and when it stacked up I just didn’t see it at all and I got into the back of him. Obviously this sort of thing has happened about 100 times this year but it doesn’t make it right.
"We have to go back out there tomorrow and try to qualify a little better and run up front. I think if the race ended under green I would have won this race for sure. And I feel confident saying that because I was moving by those guys in a hurry. Should’ a, could’ a, would’ a. I made a mistake and I don’t even know where we finished."
Rahal was assessed a 30-second penalty for "avoidable contact" by INDYCAR officials and finished 11th. That was two spots better than Kanaan, whose damaged car left him with a 13th-place finish.
"Well, you’ve got to be professional," Kanaan said. "I have a team to defend and a lot of good sponsors. So, I can’t do what I really want to do.
"What a shame. It was a great run by the Target Chip Ganassi boys. We fought all the way; all day long. And to be taken out like that I think it’s stupid. But he was having a good day, too and then ruined his day. I guess I wanted to believe the best. I wanted to believe he didn’t do it on purpose. Of course he came and apologized. But that still doesn’t take the frustration out of me.
"Yeah, he has to man, come on. He’s a humble guy. It’s just a shame. What am I going to say? Am I mad at him? Yes. Can I turn back in time? No. So, we’ve got to turn the page and move on to tomorrow."
And that leads into the second half of the Houston doubleheader, as many more drivers were upset with incidents that happened on the race track or calls made by INDYCAR officials off of it.
Marco Andretti had a flat left rear tire from an incident with Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Munoz. Munoz was given a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, while Andretti was given a drive-through penalty for failing to heed to the blue move over flag when he was attempting to stay on the lead lap when Takuma Sato was the leader.
Andretti would rally back to finish eighth.
"We had to come back from a disaster and just hang in there," Andretti said. "We were ahead of Carlos and then we should have pitted and instead we stayed out. If we would have went on Carlos strategy, I think we would have finished third. We’ll go through everything tonight and come back ready tomorrow."
Sato had driven team owner A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 Honda from sixth starting position to the lead by Lap 5. After making his first pit stop, Sato was second behind race leader James Hinchcliffe and making a charge on a restart on Lap 33 before he was involved in a crash with Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin.
That led Foyt to drop to drop a major curse word on the television broadcast.
"When you have a car a lap down you’d think he would back off," Foyt said of Aleshin. "You have a bunch of [explicit] idiots out here."
Sato, who led one time for 22 laps and appeared to be a prime contender for victory, suffered an injured wrist and will be re-evaluated on Sunday by the INDYCAR Medical Staff.
"Nobody wanted to finish like this â big disappointment in the end," Sato said. "I got off the line really well so I overtook two cars but then I was sandwiched between two cars so I had to back off. But the car was very good which allowed me to overtake and eventually get the lead. It was really fun, everything was under control.
"Marco came out of the pit in front of me on cold tires. I was much faster and he was holding me up. He got the blue flag for I don’t know how many laps and he just ignored it. I lost a lot of time and finally the league black-flagged him, but by then the damage was done. Hinchcliffe was right behind me and we had to both pit and unfortunately we lost one place to him so now we are second.
"On that restart, Aleshin was behind but he was a lap down so I concentrated on Hinchcliffe. Going into the long sweep on turn five, the only place to overtake was on the inside and that was a wet line too so I stayed on the dry line and he just came in too deep on the outside. We tangled.
"What was he going to achieve? You can’t overtake on the outside on that hairpin. The team did a great job and we had a great car in the race. The conditions were changing but we made the right decisions and I was really happy to be in the car. It’s a shame. The hand is sore but we’ll be fine for tomorrow."
Aleshin was involved in several incidents throughout the race, including one where his car swapped ends on him and hit the wall, but the collision with Sato ended his race dropping him to last in the 23-car field.
"I was gaining Takuma (Sato) from the outside and he closed the inside and I was thinking he was going to leave me some space on the outside, but then he closed the inside and he started to close the outside as well," Aleshin explained. "I had nowhere to go at this point. So unfortunately, there’s nothing we could do. Basically, it all started when Mike Conway ran into my back and that’s why I was in the back of the field. I was going to be up there, if not for this first accident.
"I was trying to gain my lap and I was actually a bit surprised. I was faster than Takuma at this point and I wasn’t even a full lap down so I just needed to get my lap. It was just a strange situation because he was in the inside then I took the outside lane and then he closed the outside as well. It’s just frustrating results for our team because we had a good car and we were doing well. Everything was going well until the moment Mike Conway ran into my back when this all started."
Three-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon suffered another major setback this season when he crashed in Turn 9 triggering a wreck that also involved teammate Charlie Kimball and pole winner Simon Pagenaud. All three drivers were out of the race.
Dixon finished 19th and dropped to eighth in the standings, a whopping 161 points behind the leader, Will Power, who had his own bad day too and finished 14th, but lost just six points off his championship lead. He is now 33 points ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves entering Sunday’s 90-lap race.
"It was a hard day today. If we could have hung in there a little longer we could have been in good shape," Power said. "I made a mistake there and I feel bad for the Verizon Chevy boys after I went into the wall. That’s racing. We’ll try it again tomorrow and go for better result."
And there are plenty of drivers from Saturday’s race that are hoping Sunday brings a much better result than what they experienced so far this weekend.