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Video: Five-car crash mars first lap of Phoenix IndyCar race

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Impatience on a track where it is hard to pass might have led to Saturday night’s big first-lap crash in the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Phoenix Raceway, according to second-year driver Max Chilton.

The crash came in turn one of Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, when Mikhail Aleshin spun in turn one of the opening lap of the race. Graham Rahal then slammed into Marco Andretti and Max Chilton. Sébastien Bourdais also suffered serious damage to his Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Honda was also hit, but he was able to continue in the field.

Every car in the five-car crash was a Honda.

An aerodynamic package and tire combination on a very smooth track has made the 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway a “one-groove race track.” Because of that, Chilton believes, many drivers were very impatient at the start of the race, including Aleshin, who drove in too deep into the first turn and spun.

“Absolutely, that’s the problem,” Chilton told Autoweek after he was checked and released from the medical center in the Phoenix Raceway infield. “You just have to look at the grandstands. There is no one here because it’s pretty dull racing. The only place you can overtake is in turn one on the start or the restart, so everyone was going for glory.

“It looked like it was going to be OK, but we are going so fast you need one car to make an error and then you are in trouble.”

Last year, the former Formula 1 driver made his first oval start at Phoenix and called this style of racing “crazy.” When reminded of that quote after Saturday night’s crash, Chilton said it was “maddening.”

“It’s pretty mad,” Chilton said. “That is my first incident on a race on an oval and it is pretty wild. There are some people out there that take bigger risks. I’m not going to name any names but one of them was involved in this incident. It’s difficult when they are four-wide. I was trying to avoid the accident. I spun trying to avoid it and I was collected by Rahal and he had nowhere to go.

“It’s frustrating when one person makes a mistake and you all get taken out.”

Chilton was referring to Aleshin. The driver from Moscow had no explanation for what happened to his car.

“I turned and the rear just went sideways,” Aleshin said after he was released from the medical center.

For Andretti, the promise of an improved season has turned into another one of dramatic disappointment and frustration. He finished seventh in the season opening race at St. Petersburg, 20th when the electronics on his car failed at Long Beach and 21st, three laps down, at last Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“Ask Mikhail what happened,” Andretti said. “You spin to miss him and because of my smoke Rahal hit me. The hit by Graham was pretty big but I was lucky to get hit in the back, because I hate looking at smoke and realizing the field is coming at me. It’s not fun.

“I want to be able to just finish a race. Everybody was trying to miss Mikhail. It looked like he had more downforce than most of us. I don’t know what the deal was. I think it was a product of Mikhail losing it and us trying to avoid it.”

Rahal is also off to a very disappointing start to the season. He was 17th at St. Pete, 10th at Long Beach and 13th last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.

“Our luck right now, I need to go to New Orleans and find some voodoo dolls or something,” Rahal sad. “This is what happens when you qualify in the back like we have. It puts us in compromising positions. It was wrong place, wrong time. What do you do?

“I just know the spotter is yelling at me to go low, I went low and Chilton was spinning at me on the bottom so the only choice I had was to go above him, and when he released the brake pedal his car came back up the banking. All I could see is smoke.”

Rahal is credited with a last-place finish but believes he has to continue to work hard, as the series now heads to Indianapolis for the IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 13 and the 101st Indianapolis 500 on May 28.

Chilton said he tried to avoid the crash, but when he started to roll down the banking, it was directly into the path of Rahal.

“Mikhail went in too hot in the turn and took us all out of the race,” Chilton said.



By Bruce Martin

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