Article by Jacob Black, photo courtesy of IndyCar
It was a wet and wild weekend in the world of motorsport with plenty of weather and plenty of intense racing. It was also a weekend of bizarre mishaps for some well-known stars.
Not the least of which, the injury Brad Keselowski suffered after taking out a relatively tame NASCAR race in Kentucky.
Keselowski cut his hand on a champagne bottle in victory lane and had to get four stitches. The injury didn’t dampen his spirits though.
Speaking of the damp, MotoGP had its first wet race of the season. A damp qualifying saw Aleix Espargaro claim a shock pole position on board his open-class Forward Yamaha machine. Andrea Dovizioso took the lead at the start and led by as much as four seconds until Marc Marquez took the lead with 10 laps to go. Marquez’s overtake seemed as inevitable as each of his victories this season, and the Spaniard sensation literally swam across the line for his ninth straight win – and the eighth from eight races in 2014.
If MotoGP was damp, IndyCar was absolutely sodden. The Texas street circuit was all but flooded for the first of the weekend’s two races, and carnage ensued. Takuma Sato scythed his way through the pack from sixth on the grid to lead by four seconds early on, but then found himself held up by Marco Andretti. Andretti had just exited the pits after issues and was in danger of going a lap down, but with his Andretti AutoSport teammate James Hinchcliffe in second opted to slow Sato and back him into the Canadian – ignoring the blue flags for several laps in the process.
For once I’m not the only one handing out black flags and Andretti copped a black flag and a fine for failing to heed the official’s orders but the damage was done.
A caution for one of many crashes saw the leaders dive for the pits, and Hinchcliffe jumped Sato during the stop. At the restart, Sato attempted a pass on Hinch, but had Mikhail Aleshin breathing down his neck. Not expecting Aleshin – who was a lap down – to be challenging for position Sato moved back to the racing line and the two made contact, crashing into the wall and ending both driver’s days.
The race would end under yellow after first a crash for Sebastian Saavedra and then for Graham Rahal crashing into Tony Kanaan under caution just before a restart with one lap to go.
That left rookie Carlos Huertas to take his maiden victory ahead of fellow Columbians Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Munoz.
Race two was drier, but equally chaotic and was claimed by Simon Pagenaud ahead of rookies Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth – meaning rookies took four of six podium places for the weekend. All three had to hold off extreme pressure from behind, with Pagenaud’s resilience forcing Helio Castroneves into a race-ending mistake and Jack Hawksworth holding off a train of half a dozen cars to take a gritty third place.
Castroneves’s crash with Sebastien Bourdais was a mirror-image of that which took out Sato and Aleshin just a day earlier – the only difference being Bourdais was not a lap down and had a right to be on the outside of Castroneves as they approached the braking zone.
It was potentially a championship-losing mistake for Castroneves, whose brain-fade allowed Will Power to retain a 39-point lead in the hunt for the title.
Arg – I know some of you will be bored to read it, but the best performance in motorsport this weekend once again came from a little Spanish bloke aboard a factory Honda. He didn’t get pole, but Marc Marquez once again demonstrated his complete dominance over MotoGP. First-corner mistake? No drama, he’ll still win. Didn’t get pole? No drama, he’ll win. Pouring rain? No drama, he’ll still win. Brilliant, brilliant ride, and the breaststroke over the line with his belly on the fuel tank was one of the best celebrations of the year.
Graham Rahal is one of IndyCar’s biggest names. He’s the son of Bobby Rahal, a superstar of the previous generation. He is also the driver sponsored by the National Guard, with a large team and an equally large budget. Yet Rahal qualified the car mid-pack again on Saturday, and then stalled on the grid. To add insult to injury, he managed to race up to fourth with a few laps to go, only to clumsily rear-end Tony Kanaan under yellow and dump him. In more ways than one, Rahal earned a yellow flag this week.
This week’s Black Flag goes to Marco Andretti. Not for fighting to stay on the lead lap, and not for backing Sato into Hinchcliffe, but for lying about it. Marco had pace to drive away from Sato and keep his lap, but opted instead to help erase the four-second gap to his teammate in second. Radio chatter shows that the team knew Marco would help slow Sato, and the time differences proved that Andretti backed him up. All of that is defensible – after all, this is racing and it is still a team sport – but to claim that he didn’t do it deliberately – and to ignore the blue flags for more than three laps – is not defensible. Poor form from one of the sport’s most controversial stars.