The video appeared to show eventual Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato launching from his pit stall a split second before Alexander Rossi dropped the clutch and left his box. The clash between Sato’s No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda and Rossi’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, as they accelerated towards the same piece of tarmac in the fast lane, was undeniable. Rossi’s right-front tire clearly hit Sato’s left-front, but the ensuing penalty for an unsafe pit release for the No. 27 did not sit well with Andretti COO Rob Edwards.
“I spoke with race control and said the problem is, you’re not realizing that when Alex was waved out, there was no one in that space,” Rossi’s race strategist told RACER. “And there’s natural lag between waving the driver out, then him going and building momentum. If you watch the replay, Sato’s not there when Alex was sent. You have to respect race control’s decisions, but I thought it was fairly harsh, and didn’t accurately reflect the sequence of what took place.”
Running fourth at the time of the penalty, Rossi was sent to the back of the field on the ensuing restart. Having led 17 laps and traded the lead repeatedly with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, the penalty turned Rossi’s event upside down. Gifted with a fast car, but stuck behind the entire field on a day where passing deep in the pack was incredibly difficult, the 2016 Indy 500 winner clobbered the wall on lap 143 and climbed from his tattered car unhurt.
“We were never planning on being that far back. We just lost it. A lot of dirty air. Thought we had a car to win,” Rossi said.
“It’s vastly different when you’re running 17th, or whatever, with a big pack of cars, over running inside the top five and what that looks like,” he said. “It was the result of what we felt was a rather draconian penalty. I told someone last night that I thought the race would be decided between Dixon, Sato, and Alex. And we were right, for most of it.”
IndyCar race director Kyle Novak told RACER that incident was a straightforward call.
“We want to tighten up things in pit lane because of the human element, and 27 [Rossi] was launched into an occupied lane,” he said.