Race Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM April 27, 2014—Once the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama got underway after a nearly three-hour rain delay, Takuma Sato must have felt like Sisyphus, who rolled the stone up the mountain only to have it fall just before he reached the top –and had to start rolling it all over again.

Recovering from two spins before the halfway mark, Sato soldiered on to finish 13th in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda at the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park.

Although it had stopped raining, the cars started on rain tires because the track was so wet from the early afternoon storms. Sato qualified 14th but before lap one was completed, he was last, having been caught up in an accordion-effect tangle which sent him spinning and then parked in Turn 11. Safety crews got him restarted and on his way before he lost a lap.

When the caution came out for the contact between teammates Mikhail Aleshin and Sebastien Bourdais on lap 21, the field pitted and switched from the treaded rain tires to the dry slick tires. Sato had worked his way from 23rd to 17th—benefitting too from a 7.2 second pit stop by the ABC Supply team.

On the lap 26 restart, Sato was attempting to pass Ryan Briscoe and as they entered the hairpin side-by-side, they tangled which sent Sato spinning again. He dropped to 20th–the last car on the lead lap. However, a full course yellow followed for Juan Pablo Montoya’s off track excursion in Turn 11, allowing Sato to catch up to the field.

He then began moving up through the field and was 13th by lap 39. With a flawless 6.8-second pit stop on lap 48, Sato was 13th when the pit stops cycled out. He was closing on 12th place Jack Hawksworth, having cut a 1.5-second gap down to within striking distance when the fifth and final caution came out on lap 66 for Aleshin’s contact in Turn 14.

Qualifying Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, April 26, 2014—Takuma Sato qualified 14th for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with a time of 1 minute, 9.02 seconds around the 17-turn, 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park. With temperatures in the mid-80s today and predicted to be higher on race day, drivers will be facing one of the most physically demanding races so far this year.

The hot temperatures during this afternoon’s qualifying session proved challenging as the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda was seventh quick in Group Two’s first round of qualifying, with only the top six of the 13 cars advancing to the next round.

"We made good progress since yesterday because the car felt more competitive,” Sato said. “We found some grip but not enough for qualifying. We tried hard today, but it was a difficult one."

Will Power won his third pole in five attempts at Barber as he laid down an unbeatable lap with a time of 1 minute, 8.31 seconds. James Hinchcliffe was second with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves rounding out the Firestone Fast Six.

Although qualifying didn’t go as well as expected, especially in light of Sato running in the top-five on both days of the Open Test held here in March (albeit when the weather was 30 degrees colder), the team will be focused on tomorrow’s race set-up. There will be a 30-minute warm-up session in the morning.

The race will be televised live Sunday afternoon starting at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network.

Practice Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM April 25, 2014—Warm weather conditions and a shortened amount of practice time left Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply team searching for speed at the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park Friday afternoon.

"The conditions are quite a bit different from the Open Test; it's a lot warmer so the tire grip is acting differently,” Sato said. “We didn't get a good feel for the setup in the morning session because there were so many red flags. In the afternoon, we tried to find what we had in the test but we're not there yet. We have to work pretty hard tonight."

Sato’s time of 1:09.4793 was 13th quickest of the 23 cars that took to the 2.3-mile road course. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest today with a time of 1:08.9311. The teams will have another 45-minute practice session in the morning before tomorrow afternoon’s qualifying session.

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.


NOTES & QUOTES: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Takuma Sato On:

o Barber Motorsport Park and whether it is reminiscent of F-1 circuits he has raced on: “Barber is a great track. It is not necessarily similar to the recent F1 tracks but it reminds me of a good classic circuit like a miniature of Imola in San Marino or Brands Hatch in the U.K. which is a narrow track, flowing high speed corners with good elevation change and lots of beautiful greens and trees. I like this sort of challenging track.”

o The Open Test at Barber last month: “The test went well; we tried a couple of test items which we didn't try last year and some things the team studied well over the winter. It is always nice to see the improvement on the car; we need to develop improvements all the time. Sometimes the race weekends become a different scenario, so even if you had a positive result from the test, we need a good analysis from the data to be able to apply it for different conditions we may face for the race.  Our test was proactive so I feel confident that we will have a strong performance.”

o The key to success at Barber: “A good platform control is required for the aerodynamics as Barber is one of the fastest road courses we race on. There are some long corners that make it difficult to get balance right as we need to address both the understeer level and stability [in the rear].”

o The difference between the US Grand Prix F-1 circuit (finished 3rd in 2004) and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis circuit which he will test on April 30th: “The biggest difference is F1 used banking in the opposite direction at the last corner (the 500’s Turn 1) and it was somewhat iconic; I really did enjoy it. The IndyCar road course eliminated that corner and will use the extra complex in the infield of Turns 1 and 2 as the final part of the track which I haven’t driven. So it will be different but I am looking forward to it very much.”

o His post-race dinner at a Long Beach restaurant specializing in hot wings: “Well, that was a very interesting off-track private activity. I had been invited to go for hot wings by a good friend from ABC Supply since last year and we finally made it. I have experienced some hot food--Japanese, Korean and Indian--but that thing was beyond all. It was tasty but way too hot and it gave me unbearable pain all over my mouth! [He had to sign a waiver before eating it]. However, I did enjoy the laugh and had a fun time sharing it with my fan club tour members [who accompanied him] and friends. It was a very unique experience but maybe one time is enough!”

o The last race at Long Beach: “It was a very disappointing end for us but there was a good positive too. We had struggled up until qualifying but found competitiveness on Sunday which was great. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to deliver a result but we came close and that is racing so we shall keep on pushing. The race was a bit too wild overall but I guess it was an exciting event for fans.”