TORONTO – Team co-owner Jimmy Vasser couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked up on pit lane and saw Takuma Sato charging his driver, Sebastien Bourdais. The altercation came at the end of Saturday morning’s practice session for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.
Sato was upset with Bourdais passing him on one final lap, but with Spencer Pigot immediately behind Bourdais, he was trying to open a gap to get a fast lap.
Sato was furious with the move and he charged the four-time Indy car champion as he was climbing out of his No. 18 SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan.
Sato grabbed Bourdais by the collar of his firesuit. Bourdais pushed him away, and then things got even scrappier.
Several of the swings connected, but both drivers were still wearing their helmets. The scuffle was broken up by Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan public relations director Kevin Diamond, a veteran who handles the PR for Bourdais.
Diamond was successful in pushing Sato away.
Ironically, Diamond was once Sato’s public relationship representative when the driver from Tokyo drove for KV Racing.
“As long as Sebastien has been around, he’s gotten into with Paul Tracy, he’s gotten into with Mikhail Aleshin, he’s not afraid of bigger or smaller guys,” Vasser told NTT INDYCAR Mobile. “Sebastien is pretty feisty.
“I was surprised that Sato came so quickly in our box. He went by the timing stand unnoticed. But Seb (Bourdais) is not one to back down.”
The two are worth watching in the Honda Indy Toronto, which begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Sato will line up one position behind Bourdais when the green flag drops about 3:45 p.m. ET.
What led up to the incident was a chance to have one final lap in Saturday’s practice session. It has been halted for a red flag after Graham Rahal wrecked his Honda into the tire barrier in Turn 1. As the field went out to complete one final “flyer” Bourdais passed Sato, as if he were intending to improve position.
According to Diamond, it was to open a gap with Pigot rapidly closing behind him in order to gauge his speed for qualifications.
Sato, however, took it as a sign of disrespect because it was the final lap of practice. After all cars came down pit lane, Sato climbed out of his Honda, ran down pit lane and confronted Bourdais as he was climbing out of his Honda.
“I passed him on the out-lap, and it pissed him off,” Bourdais told NBC Sports. “I’m not sure it deserved that kind of reaction, but it doesn’t matter. If there was anything, I’m the one who should be pretty pissed. He pretty much ruined our race in Texas from three laps down and blocked us the last three stints.
“I’ve never asked him for anything. We know he races hard but with that little incident, I’m not so sure what should happen to him.”
Sato gave his side of the story and said, “I’m cool.”
The 101st Indianapolis 500 winner continued by saying: “He was excited. It wasn’t me,” referring to Bourdais. “Passing me was absolutely pointless. It was just one lap. He went blasting by me and then turned into Josef Newgarden.
“What was the point?”
During Vasser’s driving career, he was never involved in a physical altercation with another driver.
“I just did a little jawing and moved on,” Vasser said. “Sometimes, when your adrenaline gets over the top, you can’t turn it off.
“It’s probably prudent to be able to control your emotions. In this case, Sato was in his face in his box right after climbing out of his car.
“You come marching into somebody’s box or his trailer, you shouldn’t expect a welcoming party.”