The opening to Thursday’s six-hour Indy 500 session produced the first contact between cars on track in a bizarre incident involving Colton Herta and Scott McLaughlin.
Minutes after the green flag waved, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team sent its three cars out to complete a lap in three-wide formation for a photo opportunity; Team Penske did the same on Tuesday with its four cars stretched across the front straight while running at a modest speed.
RLL’s trio of Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, and Santino Ferrucci rounded Turn 4 at a reduced pace and, by chance, created a small bottleneck behind them as Paretta Autosport’s Simona De Silvestro went low in the corner and Team Penske’s McLaughlin moved to her outside. Unaware of the three-wide photo effort and traffic jam ahead, Andretti Autosport’s Herta arrived at Turn 4 at full speed and tripped over McLaughlin while trying to cut between the No. 3 Chevy and the wall.
With McLaughlin also unaware of the charging Herta behind him, his slow fade towards the right coincided with Herta blasting by in the narrowing gap, which resulted in a loud clash between the right side of McLaughlin’s car and the left side of Herta’s No. 26 Honda.
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Both drivers pitted at the end of the lap and the cars were taken back to Gasoline Alley for inspection. More than an hour of practice was lost as a result of the strange collision.
“I think the Rahal dudes were trying to get a nice little photo there, which I’m all for that, but Colton was just coming fast and was a fair way back,” McLaughlin said. “I mean, I just had no idea. I apologized to him, he apologized back to me so it’s a bit of a 50/50 thing. I don’t know really exactly what happened. First lap of the morning and just trying to get round and get some pit stop practice.”
Herta was surprised to find McLaughlin and De Silvestro at half-speed and was apparently not alerted by his team that RLL was blocking the road ahead of them.
“No, or else I would have slowed down,” he said. “You’ve got the inside wall there, trying to come around the corner, and it just baffles me both of them are going side by side 170 miles per hour taking up the whole track. It’s crazy.”