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. Declared a timed event of one hour, 40 minutes, the race concluded under yellow after 69 laps. Ryan Hunter-Reay won the event for the second straight year; he was followed by teammate Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

"It was a tough and busy race—back and forth, and back and forth again,” Sato said. “We started with wet conditions although the rain had stopped, we were on wet tires. The water spray was just enormous on the back straight. You couldn’t see anything! In the kink, a couple guys got sideways and it was an accordion effect and everyone hit the brakes. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of the corner and I had to avoid hitting the brakes. And then I spun. Fortunately I didn't lose a lap and we caught the field and we tried again.

“The car was okay and then the track conditions got dryer. With the full course yellow [for the Aleshin-Bourdais incident], we all pitted and put on the dry slicks. On the restart, I was side by side with Briscoe and we entered the hairpin and we tangled together.  Unfortunately, another spin but I kept it going and tried to catch the field again.

“After that we had good pace on the red tires and I was able to gain a couple positions on the track, and I was gradually catching the field. In the end, the time was up. After a tough race, I'm pleased to bring the car home."

Prior to the race, A.J. Foyt met Grand Marshal Joe Namath, quarterback for the 1969 Superbowl-winning New York Jets and University of Alabama alumnus. Foyt and Namath exchanged vintage helmets.

Namath’s maroon UofA college football helmet was inscribed: “A.J., You are one of my main heros. Joe Willie Namath”

Foyt’s white helmet with a red Number 1 and ‘Coyote Red’ AJ initials was inscribed with: “To Joe, It’s Hell getting Old. A.J. Foyt”

The two legends chatted for 20 minutes as photographers and film crews captured the moment. Two years ago at Barber Motorsports Park, Foyt met Bart Starr, who led the Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Superbowl games.

The ABC Supply team heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they will test on the road course Wednesday along with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series teams. In addition to Sato, the Foyt team will field a car for rookie Martin Plowman who will be making his IMS debut in the No. 41 Alfe Heat Treating Honda in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10. Plowman will then make his Indy 500 debut in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda two weeks later.