Takuma Sato blames Romain Grosjean for crash in second practice at St. Pete GP


ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — After a fantastic debut with Andretti Autosport, fortunes went south for Romain Grosjean during a crash-filled NTT IndyCar Series practice Saturday morning.

Grosjean, who set the pace Friday in his first practice with the No. 28 Dallara-Honda, rear-ended Takuma Sato (who is driving the No. 51 of Dale Coyne Racing that Grosejan drove last year) in Turn 10 about 25 minutes into the second session of the race weekend.

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin led the 45-minute practice Saturday morning with a blistering 59.7342-second lap ahead of Colton Herta. It’s believed to be the first lap under a minute on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile road course that has played host to IndyCar since 2003.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: Session II l Combined sessions

The session’s second red flag began after Sato had slowed for traffic entering the corner, and Grosjean made impact with hardly any braking. Both cars limped back to the pits with Sato’s car suffering major body and gearbox damage, and Grosjean’s left front wing broken.

Sato blamed the incident on Grosjean, whom he said also had made contact with Helio Castroneves earlier in practice.

“It’s a shame,” Sato told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Everybody is trying to make a gap. We were just slowing down, and I had to hit the brake coming through 9. Grosjean, I don’t know what he was thinking. He was reckless. I don’t know what he was thinking. He could clearly see the cars in front.”

In an interview before qualifying, Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns that he could have gotten more help from race officials in clearing traffic.

“The footage is pretty obvious, so I think we move on that,” Grosjean said. “Luckily the car is repaired. … The marshals could have done a better job with flags, because you come out of the kink in Turn 9, and I didn’t know those guys were stopped, and when you’re stopped, you should be off the racing line. It’s pretty obvious.”

After rebounding to qualify fifth despite bruised hands from the crash, Grosjean said he and Sato “agreed to disagree” after talking about the crash. He also elaborated on the need to provide more warning and drivers impeding the racing line.

“There was just no flags on the track, and I think we should have flags when these cars are that slow to corner,” he said. “I just think if I had known there were like four cars (ahead) because you cannot see (beyond the turn). I know there was one on the left, one on the right. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know there were some in front.

ROMAIN GROSJEAN: Well, there was just no flags on the track, and I think we should have flags when these cars are that slow to corner. Yeah, that’s all. I just think if I had known there were like four cars — because you cannot see. I know there was one on the left, one on the right. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know there were some in front.

“If there’s only one, the guy should accelerate. Obviously there were more, but I think just a white flag to tell us that, and I just think you shouldn’t be driving that slow on the racing line.”

In a separate incident, Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 8 and made light contact with the left front of his No. 48 Dallara-Honda. It was the second spin of the session and third since Friday for Johnson, who is racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this season.

With just more than five minutes remaining in the session, defending series champion Alex Palou crashed in Turn 9.

The practice also was stopped after 17 minutes for a similar incident involving Jack Harvey, whose No. 45 Dallara-Honda brushed the wall in Turn 9 and then slammed into the barrier with its left front on the corner exit.

Harvey is making his debut this weekend with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after racing in IndyCar for Meyer Shank Racing since 2017.

Andretti Autosport led Friday’s first practice with Grosjean and Colton Herta turning the quickest two laps on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course.

Qualifying will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET (Peacock).

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”