Race Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

LEEDS, Ala. April 7, 2013—This race weekend was about bouncing back from adversity.

Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply team appeared to have the speed they needed to make their second Firestone Fast Six final qualifying round Saturday but an official’s judgment call and ensuing  penalty dropped him to 12th on the grid.

Not one to dwell on the negatives, Sato determined he was going to be attacking right from the start of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He wasted no time as he quickly jumped into 11th and, after a short yellow period for a first lap melee in the rear of the field, Sato had another good restart and moved into ninth by lap seven.

He pitted on lap 23 and went from the alternate (red) tires to the harder compound primary (black) tires. He was off in 7.4 seconds. He didn't like the primary tire as much; indeed the car was not nearly as quick on the harder tire. He opted for the alternate tire on the next stop.

On the lap 43 pit stop, the tires and fueling went well but as Sato tried to leave the pits, he was not able to engage a gear. By the time the the problem was resolved, he dropped from 13th to 23rd.

Now on a set of slightly worn alternate tires (used in one of the qualifying rounds), Sato began to carve his way through the field.

He passed several cars before his final pit stop and beat Simona deSilvestro out of the pits because the ABC Supply crew gave him a great stop. Now in 18th, he battled with J.R. Hildebrand for 15 laps before finally passing him with four laps left in the race.

Not content to sit back, he zeroed in on Oriol Servia who was 17th. A couple cars ran out of fuel on the final lap, and one of them allowed Sato to gain the advantage he needed. He edged past Servia at the finish line and finished 14.

“It was disappointing for the result but it was a good, tough race in which we fought really hard to the end,” Sato said. “We had an issue on a pit stop where we lost many positions but after that we recovered, and the final stop was great, so the ABC Supply boys did a great job. We still have to address some things to sort out the problem before Long Beach. Hopefully we can transfer our good speed from here."

Sato is currently 12th in the standings. Although he has the same number of points (40) as deSilvestro, the tie breaker goes to the one who has the higher finish which she did in St. Petersburg (3rd).

“Tough day for the 14 team,” said Larry Foyt, team director. “We had a fantastic car, but a small but costly error kept us from getting a top finish. I’m proud of Takuma for fighting to the end and picking up some valuable positions in the closing laps. We will get these issues fixed and I think we will be battling up front in the ABC Supply car very soon.”

The next race is the Long Beach Grand Prix in southern California on Sunday, April 21.