Indy 500: Franchitti, Sato row over crash
28 May 2012
The winner of the 2012 Indianapolis 500 was effectively decided just after the white flag came out, when Takuma Sato spun trying to overtake Dario Franchitti going into turn 1 on the final lap.
It proved a controversial way for the 96th running of the race to finish, with opinions split between whether the reigning IZOD IndyCar champion and now three-time Indy 500 champion had blocked and wrecked his opponent deliberately, or whether Takuma Sato had pushed his luck and got what he deserved for a moment of rash opportunism.
"I thought I had the job done," said a disappointed Sato. "On the very last lap, I had a good tow from Dario," he said. "But he kept pushing and didn't give me enough room, so that I was well below the white line ... I mean almost on the grass.
"The moment I was alongside Dario I said to myself 'Job done,'" he explained. "I was hoping that coming out of turn 1 side-by-side with Dario we would take the lead going to turn 2 and turn 3. It didn't work out that way though.
"He could have given a little bit more space and we would have come out of the corner no problem," he insisted. "Into turn 1 I was well below the white line. It was in the centre of the monocoque. I was almost in the grass and the car started sliding."
Franchitti said that he had not blocked the Japanese driver when Sato had made his move down the inside of the Target Ganassi car.
"I heard my spotter say, 'He's got a run on you, he's coming up.' I was moving over. I look in the mirror. I see exactly where he was. I started moving back," explained Franchitti. "We're allowed to - what did they say - move over to the wall and leave the car behind a car width and an inch. I wanted to make sure I left more than that. My plan from that point was, deep gulp, I knew I had to go around the outside of one wide open up toward the grey [marbles] to stand a chance of winning.
"Takuma, he lost the rear," continued Dario. "I watched the replay on the TV. He lost the rear on the way in. I felt the hit. The car got sideways. I kept my foot in, and that was it."
While not exactly wild about having to deal with Sato's gambit down the inside at the start of the final lap, he entirely understood the Japanese driver's motivation.
"I thought it was a good move until the mistake he made," he said. "Last lap of the Indianapolis 500, I wouldn't expect him to lift at that point.
"He was sort of getting alongside," he recalled. "I think his front wheels and my rear wheels were alongside. He put me in a position that I had to go wide. As I said, the only mistake was when the car got loose. Maybe that's experience. Maybe the car was just bloody oversteering ... He was relying on the balance of the car as he turns in the corner.
"He made a good move. I wasn't very happy about it," the Scot admitted. "He's very aggressive. I think he thought that was his chance. I mean, why not? I think he did everything right up until he lost the rear end of the car."
The drivers with the closest view of what happened were Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, who had themselves both just been overtaken by the surging Sato in the final moments of the race. They sided with Franchitti in the view of the last lap incident.
"I think toward the end there, the three of us were all a little bit comfortable with each other, apart from Sato was a little bit wild, typical guy that wants to win this race so bad," said Kanaan, who was team mates with Sato in 2011 at KV Racing.
"It was a tough one," added Dixon. "I didn't expect Sato to come through on me on that second to last lap. He threw it in, I had to move up a little bit.
"Dario definitely had a good run, Sato came a little late," continued the Kiwi. "It was brave. Dario gave him room. He was so close to pulling that off. I think if he didn't pinch it as much and maybe moved up on Dario a little bit more, it would have been okay."
Dixon added: "Dario did a great job to save it. Sato, I don't know why he didn't wait a little longer. I really don't." The ensuing yellow flag after Sato's crash meant the race ended under a caution before Dixon could execute his own plan to take the race win.
The winning car owner, Chip Ganassi, also backed his driver and pointed out that Dario had it covered even if Sato had pulled off that initial overtaking move.
"It didn't really have me worried because going into turn 1, I thought we'd have a shot at him on the back straightaway or coming to the start/finish line. I wasn't overly concerned," Ganassi insisted. "I knew [Sato] had a good car, a good engine. He's a formidable competitor. I knew he had the right engine [but] I wasn't worried."
Sato's car owner, 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, was backing his driver equally strongly following the crash.
"I feel for Takuma because he did a super job," said Rahal. "I don't blame him at all. When you see the opportunity you've got to go for it – especially with one lap to go in the Indy 500. I'm proud of the job he did and proud of the job the guys did and I feel bad for them because they deserved a little bit better."