Race Report: Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. August 25, 2013—Some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed in the morning. After Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Takuma Sato may have felt that way. And he probably wasn’t the only one after the crash-filled race which was slowed by seven cautions.

Sato, who started 13th in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, got off to a good start in the 85-lap race, picking up two spots on the opening lap. By the time of his first pit stop on lap 18, he was up to ninth. The ABC Supply crew took off the alternate (and softer) compound red-rimmed tires and put on the primary (harder compound black) tires.

The team decided to use the black tires, which have less grip, early so Sato could have the faster red tires for the end of the race. Per the rules, teams must run at least one set of each during the race. On the restart, it was challenging as most of the cars around him had the softer compound tires. However, Sato was holding his own until Graham Rahal spun a couple rows ahead of him.

“We were going into the corner side by side with T.K. [referring to Tony Kanaan but it was actually James Jakes] when Rahal spun and I had nowhere to go and collected him,” said Sato. The contact damaged Sato’s right front suspension requiring it to be replaced as well as the steering arm. The repair took nearly 20 minutes.

“We fixed the car and went back out so we could learn for the future,” Sato explained.Since Sato was 11 laps down, Team Director Larry Foyt worked with him to keep him out of the way of the cars on the lead lap. Sato didn’t take chances and was logging laps as the race wound down.

With just six laps to go, Charlie Kimball spun in the hairpin.

As Sato recounted, “At the end, a car was completely stopped in the hairpin and cars were going inside and outside of it. Then suddenly that car started to go and ran into me [head-on] so that really ended my race.” Sato’s car sustained most of its damage to the front nose assembly.

Kimball’s attempt to rejoin the race collected both Sato and Ed Carpenter, as they had nowhere to go—in Sato’s case, for the second time in one race. However, he was philosophical about the race, saying, “We learned some things this weekend and hopefully we can transfer it to the next race.”

Scott Dixon was not quite so philosophical after incurring a stiff penalty during a pitstop. Exiting his pitbox, Dixon’s left rear wheel clipped the tire being carried by Team Penske’s right rear tire changer who didn’t appear to be paying attention. The contact spit the tire out of the crewman’s hands and flipped him into a fellow crewman sending them both to the ground. He sustained a minor injury to his leg.

Dixon, who’d been leading, was given a drive-through penalty on the restart which put him behind the entire field and gave the race lead to Power, who went on to win his first race of the season.

In his post-race interview, Dixon, who finished 15th and lost 40 points to Power’s teammate and IZOD IndyCar Series point leader Helio Castroneves, was critical of his competitor and the officials’ decision. He said, "It looks like he (Team Penske crew member Travis Law) walked straight into our car.  You could see where the other car in front of us was pitted and he walked into us, on purpose.  That's probably the most blatant thing I've seen in a long time.  If you watch most pit guys, they try and get out of the way of other people.  It's pretty annoying because we had a pretty good Target car all day long and if they want to try and win like that, then that's pretty bad.  I had a straight line heading out of the pits and he just walked right into us.  You also look at the calls people make and what they did in Race Control so I look forward to hearing what that was all about.  The consistency here is horrible."

Race Director Beaux Barfield explained his decision, saying, "Ultimately, we have a duty to protect everybody in the pit lane. If we have somebody who  uses less than great judgment when they leave their pit box and we have an incident, then we have to make a statement by penalizing. And we're going to make that call. There are a couple of different (video) angles, and clearly the 9 car [Dixon] crosses right into the 12 car's space and that's where the violation occurred. He was in the 12 car's [pit] box for a good half-car length."

Following Power across the line were Justin Wilson, Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenaud. Tempers were flaring up and down pitlane as seven in-race penalties were assessed to drivers for avoidable contact and pit safety violations. The race was slowed by seven caution flags for a total of 21 laps.

Sato was credited with 23rd place. He still remains 13th in the standings as the IndyCar teams head to Baltimore this week for the Labor Day weekend event near the city’s picturesque harbor area.