By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – On lap 151 of a thrilling Rainguard Water Sealers 600, contact between the No. 10 of Tony Kanaan and the No.5 of James Hinchcliffe led to a pile up that involved nine cars.
Along with Hinchcliffe and Kanaan, were Mikhail Aleshin, Tristan Vautier, Ed Jones, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, JR Hildebrand and Carlos Munoz of those involved.
Kanaan received minor damage and would end up finishing second.
Hinchcliffe and Aleshin, the two Schmidt Peterson team mates were running side by side coming out of Turn 2, when Hinch got a bit wide. Kanaan opportunistically dove down the inside going into Turn 3 as Aleshin pinched Hinchcliffe from above.
With nowhere to go Hinchcliffe bounced off the No. 10 car and into his teammate before fishtailing into the wall. Subsequent contact involved the remaining five cars. Kanaan escaped without damage but was penalized with a stop and hold for 20 seconds for avoidable contact, which saw the Brazilian veteran fall two laps down on the field, though he was able to later get back on the lead lap during subsequent cautions.
Caution came out immediately, but the expanse of the debris field and number of cars involved brought out the red flag on lap 154 as the continuing cars could not safely navigate Turns 3 and 4. All drivers involved were checked, cleared, and released from the infield medical center where they then talked to the assembled media.
Only 11 cars were left for the restart, some 30 minutes after the red flag was flown.
Hinchcliffe was angry and regretful about the incident, especially as it caught out his teammate.
“Mikhail was the last guy to the party,” said Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
“He showed up as we were side-by-side there, had a good run on me and went outside. Tony had a half a race track to his left and just drove right. He was on the white line, driver’s left, and then just heading into (Turn) 3, came halfway across the race track and just pushed me right into Mikhail. Either he didn’t know we were three-wide or didn’t care. He’s normally the best guy at 1.5-mile racing.
“I mean, I would trust going wheel-to-wheel with him all race long. We did it last year in our shootout here for the win, but today, he made a big mistake and took out a lot of race cars that didn’t deserve to be crashed.”
Aleshin was disappointed, but was able to find a silver lining in his strong oval performance.
“My perspective was that I wasn’t very sure what was going on between James and TK, but I left them pretty good space and I knew they were there,” said Aleshin.
“Next thing I felt was two hits and the second one was a big one and that was it. I think it’s been pretty packed, maybe more than it was before here. But it’s pretty good. I like the track. I like the spectators. I just feel sorry I had a shit result today.”
The team arguably hurt the worst by the accident was Dale Coyne Racing with Ed Jones and Tristan Vautier who had been the star of the race to that point, both out on the spot. Jones was also very critical of veteran Tony Kanaan.
“I saw the replay. TK just ignored the other cars on the track. Earlier on in the race, going into Turn 3, he put me below the apron. He’s driving pretty reckless out there.”
Vautier was also very upset after leading multiple laps in his first IndyCar start since 2015. The Frenchman subbing for his compatriot Sebastien Bourdais, thrilled in the early running as he fearlessly battled with IndyCar’s best.
“I’m just really pissed to be honest because I wanted to be at the end, but we did our best,” said Vautier.
“The car was amazing. It was great to battle with the top guys.”
Hunter-Reay was reserved in his initial assessment, but did feel too many drivers were hanging it all out.
“There were guys making too many moves out there late into the corner, I will save my opinion for after I look at it,” said Hunter-Reay.
“I came down, there were cars spinning and sparks everywhere. I went for the apron, I kind of high-sided a bit, and I was just a passenger from there. There was no where to go. You can’t jump all over the brakes from these cars once you are doing 220 mph into the corner, there’s not a whole lot of places to go.”
Everyone pointed the blame at Kanaan, but Hinchcliffe summed everything up rather philosophically about the nature of pack racing at Texas.
“He’s (Kanaan) a friend of mine and a driver that I respect a lot,” said Hinchcliffe.
“Especially in this kind of racing, but I hope race control does something about it because that was a pretty flagrant move. He just shouldn’t be up there anymore. His day should be done. I was one of the biggest critics of there not being a second groove, but I spent a whole lot of time tonight trying to make it work.
“After we had our pit road mishap and going back thru the field, I was using the high lane in Turns 1 and 2. It’s a pretty good advantage. It was coming in and getting better, but as the grip level came up, we had us an old fashioned Texas pack race. It’s exciting for the fans, but it is kind of dangerous. We haven’t been racing like that here in five or six years, so some guys or a bit rusty or some guys have just never done it.
“So it’s tough. It might look exciting, at least in situations like that when we’re all running so close, but all pack racing is subject for debate.”