Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 29, 2015—‘It ain’t over til it’s over.’

Jack Hawksworth took that famous Yogi Berra quote to heart in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg today.

Hawksworth started 21st and clawed his way to an eighth place finish in the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda after trouble early in the 110-lap race. Takuma Sato, who started fifth in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, had contact on a restart and pitted for a new front wing. Relegated to last on lap 36, he came back to finish 13th.

Juan Pablo Montoya beat out pole winner and teammate Will Power to claim the victory. Third through fifth were Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Due to Hawksworth’s early pit stop to replace the damaged front wing, his team opted for an alternate fuel strategy. As drivers began pitting for fuel around lap 22, Hawksworth advanced through the field and was third when the caution for debris was called on lap 26. On the lap 32 restart, Hawksworth lost a couple positions as the other drivers were on fresh tires.

At the same time, Sato and Sebastien Bourdais made contact while battling for sixth. The hit was hard enough to damage Sato’s wing, which he limped around with until the team saw it was too damaged to continue and called him in on lap 36. Thanks to the generosity of team owner Dale Coyne who lent the ABC Supply team one of his front wings (his car had already retired from the race), Sato was back in action.

Meanwhile, Hawksworth had pitted on lap 35 under caution and then opted to stay out during the next caution period on lap 47, so he vaulted from 15th to the lead, which he held until the race went green on lap 53. The young Brit ran in the top four until pitting on lap 70, which dropped him back to 18th. As the final round of pit stops began around lap 80, Hawksworth moved up to third again. He made his final pit stop for about three seconds of fuel on lap 95 under green. He rejoined the race in 12th position, ran his fastest lap of the race on lap 99, and then began passing more cars with just 10 laps to go.

“That was a really fun race, really entertaining,” said Hawksworth. “After the disappointment in qualifying, the guys really worked hard last night and found what was wrong and corrected it and gave me a fast car today. We lost the front wing on the first lap, replaced it then had some contact in the middle of the race and lost an end fence. I didn’t have a clue what was going on out there, I was just pushing like crazy all the way through once we got into clean air because I knew that was going to be important. The guys made good stops, got me in clean air and we finished in the top 10 from the back of the grid. I was really happy for the whole ABC Supply team. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy with an eighth place finish before.” 

Qualifying Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 28, 2015—Takuma Sato became the Honda standard bearer in qualifying today as he put his No. 14 ABC Supply Honda in the fifth starting slot for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Team Penske Chevrolets grabbed the first four spots in Firestone Fast Six qualifying with Will Power winning his fifth pole in the last six races here. Sato has been the only driver to unseat Power from the pole which he did last year with his pole-winning run in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda.

“To be in the Fast Six the past two seasons, well, this track is very kind to me and we’ve been able to put in a good result in qualifying although it wasn’t on the front row today,” said Sato in the post-qualifying press conference. He added, “Congratulations to Team Penske for their dominance of qualifying and in particular, Will [Power].

Power posted a time of 1:00.6931 which was fast enough to beat Sebastian Bourdais’ 2003 track record of 1:00.928 seconds. Sato posted a time of 1:01.1496 seconds.

Teammate Jack Hawksworth didn’t fare quite as well --his No. 41 ABC Supply Honda car sustained a problem today which the team is investigating and is working to solve it before tomorrow’s final warm-up session. Hawksworth will start 21st tomorrow.

"For some reason we were struggling under braking,” said a disappointed Hawksworth who was sixth in practice yesterday and the top performer in the Honda-powered camp.  He added, “The rear of the car was pretty loose and we didn't have any traction so we need to find out why. Obviously on the first day we had a pretty competitive car so we need to understand what's going on and come back better tomorrow. Fortunately we have the final warmup where we can validate what's going on."