SAFER Turn 8a
Sebastien Bourdais had a painful meeting with fellow driver Josef Newgarden at the exit of Sonoma's Turn 8a last year, and the track made sure they did something about it on the series' return to the wine country.
Bourdais went straight entering Turn 8, swept across the track, brought Newgarden with him, and the two headed directly at the left-hand barrier. But before he got to the barrier, Bourdais met with Newgarden's Xtrac gearbox which, due to the nose of Newgarden's car already being in contact with the cement wall, acted like a center punch to Bourdais' Dallara DW12 tub.
The impact broke the tub at Bourdais' left shoulder and, with the jarring impact to his ribs, left the veteran open-wheel driver in rough shape afterwards. Newgarden suffered a broken finger in the crash, which forced him to miss Baltimore the following weekend and, with this injury-laden accident in mind, Sonoma Raceway had improved protection measures at Turn 8a (ABOVE, pic by Marshall Pruett). Rather than stick with the single row of tires in front of the cement barriers, a second set of tires was added to try and prevent another spear-like impact, and thankfully, it went un-tested.
“I'll be really honest and tell you I didn't even look over there to notice,” Bourdais said after finishing 10th. “After the memories of what happened last year, I didn't want to tempt anything by looking too much…it still hurts sometimes when I think about it. But I'm glad to hear they put more protection there. I'm glad, too, that no one had to use them. I wouldn't wish that kind of crash on anybody.”
BRICK TAMLAND WOULD BE PROUD
Sonoma's jab-fest piled up the broken wings, bent wheels, damage sidepods, smashed rear wheel guards and pummeled egos at an alarming rate. It had the look of IndyCar's latest ode to the fight scene in Anchorman, and while it might have been amusing to some who watched the race, it had dire implications for some of the drivers in need of a strong finish.
Takuma Sato was a popular punching bag, collecting the spinning car of Graham Rahal and losing 20 minutes in the pits for repairs. To make matters worse, Charlie Kimball used the front of Sato's car like a vert ramp while trying to get going after spinning late in the race in Turn 7.
Tony Kanaan was hit from behind at the start and dealt with a car that no longer wanted to turn left on a track with lots of sweeping lefts to tackle. Kanaan soldiered away to score an unrepresentative 16th-place finish, and Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe fell back after triggering his pit lane speed limiter and then moshed his way from 20th to eighth.
Even more drivers were involved in the afternoon's scrum, but for those like Kanaan and Hinchcliffe—two guys who need to record competitive finishes while they look to secure new contracts—being derailed by contact at Sonoma or any of the final races has much bigger implications than might be expected.