Pocono, Pocono, Wherefore Art Thou Pocono?

Pocono, for the second race in as many years, is clouded by controversy.

The subject of this controversy is another lap one incident. Felix Rosenqvist found his NTT IndyCar flying through the air and sliding atop the SAFER barrier after being collected into the wreck going 200+ mph. To everyone’s relief, Rosenqvist did not get into the catch fence. He walked away relatively unscathed, as did the rest of the drivers involved, including championship contender, Alexander Rossi.

This first lap incident was shocking to many, especially after what happened to Robert Wickens the year prior at the same point of the race track.

Alexander Rossi was very adamant about who was to blame for the lap one incident:

“I can’t even begin to understand how, after last year, how Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable,” said Rossi. “I mean, to turn across two cars at that speed in that corner of a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and might have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting, this team works too hard to have something like that happen.”

James Hinchcliffe, remembering the impact of last year’s lap one incident had this to say:

“It sucks. I’m glad everyone’s OK but 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’re in the fence. It’s just crazy, man. It’s just such a waste of time and money to come out here for a 500-mile race and half the top 10 end up in the fence at Turn 2.”

At the time, Takuma Sato took the blame for the incident but claimed: “I kept the steering wheel straight but unfortunately it looked like we tangled together,” said Sato.

On Sato’s official twitter account the following day, he shared a video from the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team’s onboard camera. It revealed that he indeed did not turn the wheel deliberately to the left and into Rossi like many belief.

My initial response when it happened was that Sato was solely to blame for the incident. But after reviewing footage and reading multiple sources, my take on the incident is that this was a racing accident. It just happened to be at 220 mph at a race track where track position was absolutely crucial.

There is no better time to gain a position than at starts and restarts.

I think what is forgotten, but it is necessary to talk about is that dirty air can push and pull race cars. It was no secret that Sato was trying to capitalize on the draft of Scott Dixon. Dixon jumps up half a lane to get away from towing his championship rival of Rossi and jumps into Sato’s line. When reviewing the onboard camera of Sato’s car, his wheel never turns to the left. Yet, his car does drift to the left and into Rossi.

It reminds me of driving down the highway, and a being behind 18-wheelers. The tug and pull your car can feel as you switch lanes. Or when a 18-wheeler is heading the opposite direction of you at full speed, the wind pushes you over to the other side of the road. Now, imagine that scenario but traveling 200+ mph while dealing with a bumpy race track.

Robert Wickens was quick to add his opinion on Twitter after the accident. He posted: “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. 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.”

This incident questions not just racing at Pocono, but superspeedways and high-speed ovals in general. I’ve mulled over this topic since Wickens’s accident. I wondered if the Indianapolis 500 should be the only oval on the schedule. Should ovals be taken off as a whole or should they only run on ovals that restrict their speed naturally like an Iowa or a Richmond due to their size?

I say yes, ovals do need to be a part of the NTT IndyCar schedule because that is what makes IndyCar unique above all other open-wheel disciplines. It isn’t enough to be good at only road courses, but a driver needs to be great at all disciplines IndyCar offers to become a champion.

I believe there is no doubt that we need to make superspeedway racing safer. The cars are more advanced and more reliable than ever. The drivers are perhaps the most adept they have ever been in IndyCar history.

So what else needs to change? To me, it always goes back to the speed that these cars are traveling. We’ve seen numerous adaptations in motorsports to restrict speed like restrictor plates, drag-inducing systems like larger spoilers, or simply lowering the horsepower of the cars.

There is no reason why we can’t do this to IndyCars. And I’ll use this time as a friendly reminder that speed does not equal great racing.

If IndyCar does not derive a solution to making oval racing safer, does this hurt their perspective crops of future drivers? We’ve seen the young talent of Max Chilton opt-out of driving ovals the rest of the year. One has to ask, what are the chances of more younger drivers opting out as well.

Not to mention, IndyCar owners seem to be going international with their driver findings with Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist as prime examples. Many of whom have never driven ovals before. Do these incidents deter established international drivers from thinking about a career in IndyCar? It would be a shame to have a few full-time drivers because of this.

At some point, IndyCar needs to refill the driver pool. Names of Dixon, Power, and Bourdais are not getting any younger, and we need to explore if this really is becoming a problem in gaining and developing IndyCar talent.

This was the final year of a three-year contract between Pocono and IndyCar. For some, the race should continue. For others, Pocono may have outlived its usefulness for the series. For me, let’s come back to the historic track when we can slow these cars down.

Scott Masom

photo credit: motorsport.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s