Takuma Sato in Brazil: Block, or not a block?

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So, how about those final few laps in Sao Paulo when Takuma Sato battled first Josef Newgarden, and then James Hinchcliffe for the win in the final IndyCar race before the Indianapolis 500?

Social media lit up in the immediate aftermath of Sato’s driving during the final few laps. There were a plethora of posts on Twitter that said some variation of, “This is blocking, and a penalty must be enforced!”

The Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates offered their thoughts. From Scott Dixon: “Quick look at twitter… Sounds like race control had to leave early to catch a flight… Can’t wait to hear the excuses!” Dario Franchitti added, “Maybe the 14 had a broken steering rack that caused him to weave across the whole width of the straight multiple times?”

Others said it was a form of gamesmanship where Sato used both the nature of the straight and the width of his car to his advantage. The backstraight in Sao Paulo is curved, and the natural racing line is to move from the outside, back across closer to the inside, and then back out again to arc into the final Turn 11 right-hand hairpin.

Race Control ruled no further action on any of Sato’s moves against Newgarden and later Hinchcliffe, but Hinchcliffe snookered the Long Beach winner anyway with a cross-over move to come out ahead onto the front straight and take his second win of the year.

From the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series Rulebook, blocking (Section 9.3.2) is defined as such:

“A Driver must not alter his/her racing line based on the actions of pursuing Drivers to inhibit or prevent passing. Blocking will result in a minimum of a black flag “drive through” penalty.”

The mantra IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield has worked to establish during his year and four races in the series is that you can defend, where you make a proactive move on a straight and hold that line, but not block, where you move in reaction to another car’s move.

Did Sato’s driving during the final stages violate that mantra, and should he have been penalized? Or, by Barfield and Race Control holding back and letting them race, was the finish of the race enhanced?

For what it’s worth, Sato has been issued one blocking penalty already this year, during qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park.