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Sato Responds To Pocono Woe With Win In St. Louis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 26 2019
The podium after Saturday night’s IndyCar Series race featured the unlikely trio of Ed Carpenter, Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Call it “Taku’s Revenge.”

Six days after drawing relentless scrutiny for his part in an opening-lap wreck at Pocono Raceway, Takuma Sato answered and silenced his critics with an improbable NTT IndyCar Series victory in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.

Sato qualified fifth for Saturday night’s 248-lap event at World Wide Technology Raceway and dropped to last in the 22-car field after opening-lap contact in Turn 1 of the 1.25-mile oval. Pitting out of sequence with the leaders, Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew led by strategist Derek Davidson ultimately positioned the Japanese star to win via a fuel-saving strategy aided by a timely caution.

Sato’s victory by 0.0399-seconds over team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter was the closest Indy car race in the 10-year history of the facility formerly known as Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis. Series veteran Tony Kanaan finished third for A.J. Foyt Racing on a night when 2019 point-leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske was upstaged.

Sato’s second victory of the season and fifth of his career capped a week-long stretch as the center of attention for his role in a first-lap, five-car accident at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway that left his car upside down. Criticized during NBC Sports Network’s live telecast and on social media, Sato immediately defended his actions at Long Pond, Pa., and was backed by a rare mid-week statement issued by RLLR’s management.

Next to his 2017 Indianapolis 500 victory, Sato called it the most gratifying win of his 10-year domestic open-wheel career.

Takuma Sato left Pocono Raceway with his head hung low. He left Gateway with a victory.

”This win is so special…beside Indy 500, obviously nothing like it,” said Sato, who won from pole position earlier this season on the Barber Motorsports Park road-course in Birmingham, Ala. “This is just so emotionally. Gave me unbelievable boost.

“(It’s) a great story.”

Sato began his post-race presser by thanking the media for practicing “pure journalism” and re-examining the facts from Pocono during the week.

“Don’t just judge one fact,” Sato said. “Obviously, after that was significant support. The fans come in here, this distance, hold on. Everyone was support. When we go along the drivers parade, I think generally speaking St. Louis we have so much enthusiastic fans. This year the cheering, screaming my name so much. I just can’t find the word to thank you to all the support. Was special, particularly after the difficult circumstances, come here, strong qualify, which I really proud of the team.

“Head down, do our job, believe in ourselves, take the moment for the chance to come back. We came back. We made a lot of good pace over the (final) two stints and stretch the fuel what we needed. Yeah, yellow came in. Of course, some lucks maybe be happen. I think this is the whole effort of the team completely behind me, support. So happy to bring the car to the win for them. I’m very, very happy.”

Sato was penalized on-site at Pocono for avoidable contact but escaped any subsequent discipline from sanctioning body INDYCAR’s race stewards. That led to an unattributed statement from RLLR, whose co-owners include 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal, former late-night TV host David Letterman and Chicago businessman Mike Lanigan. Their unattributed statement classified the crash as a “racing incident.”

Sato said the statement made him proud to be driving the No. 30 Honda for RLLR.

“Why they did that?” said Sato, a 42-year-old native of Tokyo. “Some people say they never seen team do that kind of statement. Last week, it was very difficult to judge. A lot of people judged from only TV one angle. It looked like I turn into Alex (Rossi), which wasn’t true. Nobody wasn’t sure. They just only one little fact.

“After that, the team got logging system, onboard footage, that shows very clear evidence I wasn’t move. I hold my line, I drove straight. That not necessarily doing right because end the day we had accident, whatever the reason.

A.J. Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan placed a happy third on Saturday.

“As I said, I feel sorry for that. I apology for the situation, especially Alex involving for the championship possibility. However, there was a seam (on the track surface in Turn 2), actually very clear that other drivers moved up. As a consequence we had an accident. I think we can all learn from that. We try to give each other more space. Once you’re side-by-side or three-wide, you can’t just depart your lane, that’s the bottom line. Of course, I could have probably give more space moving to the right. Perhaps that I should have done.

“But I start racing, I thought I was correct going to the straight. That’s what happened. Which just later a lot of people analyzed from Alex onboard and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay’s onboard, my onboard, and there was very clear evidence that people can see what happened. After that I don’t need to say anything. Eventually it will come back very strong here with the support of the team. The team needed that statement be done because so much information wrongly in the world. That’s why they backed up.

“I really appreciate it. Really call home for the Rahal team. Especially Mike and Bobby. Bobby came to my town, we had a great lunch together, just two nights ago. Team is fully behind. ‘Don’t worry about Taku. Just get focused.’ I appreciate Mike, Bobby and David as well. The whole team.”

Sato might not have held off oval-track specialist Carpenter had the race gone another corner, much less another lap. “I think if we would have gone to Turn 1, I would have gotten by, to be honest,” said Carpenter, driver of the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. “I had every intention of driving for the win. It’s a difficult place to pass. They were coming back to us. There wasn’t enough time. That’s the race. Happy with second.” Sato’s winning margin over Carpenter was the closest of the season.

Carpenter and Kanaan scored their first top-three finishes of 2019. Carpenter most recently had finished second in last year’s Indianapolis 500; Kanaan’s most-recent podium was at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in 2017.

“Once we had the track position, the car was fast and we were able to perform,” said Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion, 2004 series champion and driver of Foyt’s No. 14 Chevrolet. “It’s always fun when you finish on the podium. It was a great race. First 50 laps I think it was a little boring. After that it got extremely exciting. Yeah, I had a lot of fun.  We race when it counts. Why do you want to waste your breath when it doesn’t count anything? Twenty laps to go, we go.

“Yes, it was a good result. Obviously let’s not get ahead of the game. We still have two races to go, still have a lot of work to do. I’ll take it, enjoy it tonight and go back to work.”

After Sato held off Carpenter at the finish line, all eyes turned to pole-winner and championship leader Newgarden, who had been swapping fourth place with rookie Santino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing in his No. 19 Honda. Ferrucci had drifted high a few laps earlier, allowing Newgarden to get past. But Ferrucci re-passed Newgarden and darted momentarily into the racing line, prompting Newgarden to check-up and spin in Turn 4.

Newgarden said he would be disappointed if fans classified him as “a whiner” after his post-race comments about Ferrucci aired during the TV broadcast.

“Rarely do I ever try and put someone in their place when I think they need to be put in their place. I think Santino needed to learn a lesson,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. “This is no disrespect to fans or anyone. Most people will not understand what he did wrong in that final corner. They’ve never driven an Indy car. They don’t know the subtleties of it. I think what he did was very risky. He needs to learn from that. I told him that. It’s really a racer’s thing.

“Hopefully he gets that. I think when you go to bigger ovals, it’s even a bigger potential problem. Yeah, like I said…that’s how I felt about it. I was happy I wasn’t in the (wall), to be honest with you. The engine was still going, I wasn’t in the wall. (I thought), ‘Thank goodness I’m kind of straight, I can’t believe we’re still going here.’^”

Meanwhile, Newgarden also gave the embattled Taku a thumbs-up for his handling of the Pocono controversy. “Literally the definition of professional sports _ hero maybe one minute, zero the next, hero again. That’s just how it goes,” Newgarden said. “Everyone thought Takuma was the worst thing on the planet of Earth leaving Pocono. Now it was like it wasn’t his fault. Now he’s probably a hero again. Next week he could be a loser one more time. No one knows.

“You live day-by-day in this sport. It’s every day you’re judged. A great day for him obviously. All these teams put in a lot of work. I’m sure it’s very gratifying for those guys. Really everyone in front of us did a great job. Santino had a great race. All these guys did a pretty nice job. It’s hard not to feel happy for everybody because there’s a lot of work that goes into this paddock from all the teams.”

Newgarden’s misfortune cost him six points, but the 2017 series champion will head to Portland International Raceway for next weekend’s penultimate race with a lead that has grown each of the past two weeks. Newgarden now leads teammate Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) by 38 points, Andretti Autosport’s Rossi (No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda) by 46 points and five-time/reigning series champion Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) by 70 points after they finished fifth, 13th and 20th, respectively.

Ferrucci, who led a race-high 97 of 248 laps, scored his second consecutive fourth-place finish and third of his rookie season, allowing him to move two points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist (No. 10 Monster Energy Honda) for the lead in the Rookie of the Year battle.

Conor Daly (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet) gave his team its best finish of the season in sixth place.

Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland on NBC will begin at 3 p.m. (EDT, noon PDT) with the green flag at approximately 3:45 p.m. Live broadcasts also will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 209, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).

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Results of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500IndyCar Series event on the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 248, Running

2. (17) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 248, Running

3. (20) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 248, Running

4. (6) Santino Ferrucci-(R), Honda, 248, Running

5. (4) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 248, Running

6. (18) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 248, Running

7. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 248, Running

8. (9) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 248, Running

9. (12) Colton Herta-(R), Honda, 248, Running

10. (22) Marco Andretti, Honda, 248, Running

11. (10) Felix Rosenqvist-(R), Honda, 248, Running

12. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 247, Running

13. (11) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 247, Running

14. (15) Zach Veach, Honda, 247, Running

15. (19) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 247, Running

16. (14) Marcus Ericsson-(R), Honda, 247, Running

17. (21) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 246, Running

18. (16) Graham Rahal, Honda, 226, Mechanical

19. (2) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 189, Contact 

20. (8) Scott Dixon, Honda, 136, Mechanical

21. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 131, Contact

22. (3) Will Power, Chevrolet, 52, Contact

Note: (R)-Series rookie

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 136.874 mph

Time of race: 2:15:53.4687

Margin of victory: 0.0399-seconds

Cautions: 5 for 49 laps

Lead changes: 13 among 11 drivers

Lap leaders:

Newgarden, Josef 1 – 50

Power, Will 51

Ferrucci, Santino 52

Hinchcliffe, James 53

Herta, Colton 54 – 63

Hinchcliffe, James 64 – 82

Ferrucci, Santino 83 – 114

Bourdais, Sebastien 115

Rosenqvist, Felix 116

Ericsson, Marcus 117 – 118

Daly, Conor 119

Andretti, Marco 120 – 123

Ferrucci, Santino 124 – 187

Sato, Takuma 188 – 248

NTT IndyCar Series point standings _1, Joseph Newgarden, Team Penske, 563; 2, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 525; 3, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 517; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 493; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 416; 6, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 382; 7, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 368; 8, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 346; 9, Santino Ferrucci, Dale Coyne Racing, 326; 10, Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 324.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 26 2019
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