Notes & Quotes: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

Takuma Sato: No. 14 ABC Supply Honda
Jack Hawksworth: No. 41 ABC Supply Honda

Takuma Sato On:

Mid-Ohio circuit: “Mid-Ohio is one of the most popular tracks among fans and it’s my favourite. I enjoy driving this twisted road-course and it always reminds me of the UK’s national circuits like Oulton Park where I was competing in British F3 and I loved that.  In fact, some fans brought pictures of my F3 days as well as F1 so that’s telling you the fans coming here are so enthusiastic. Also we have a great support from the Honda employees and families so that is also very nice. I look forward to having a good weekend.”

The trickiest part of the Mid-Ohio circuit: “The trickiest part would be adapting to conditions. This track is famous for what is known as massive track evolution. The track usually has very little grip when it’s “green” then it starts to grip up more with some rubber down. By the end of the day or the session, it’s gripped up a lot and it affects the car balance and setups. Also some times, the different rubber [from different tire manufacturer] doesn’t like each other [mesh well] which means if we have sports car program with us then at the beginning of the session, the track feels greasy even if there’s a lot of rubber on track. So we have to be proactive with the setups for that condition which is tricky.”

Last week’s test session: “It was a productive day. Testing is always great in that we learn so much. As described above, we have to be a little careful about the conditions as often the test and race weekend are quite different. We had a list of basic test items which is not affected too much by grip level and we should be able to adapt for good balance and speed for the weekend.

Strong performance at Toronto: “We have been strong at street courses in general, and the last couple of years at Toronto yielded good results for us so it was nice to see that we kept that trend. We had good pace at Toronto and the strategy worked in our favor so it was a very good weekend for us. It was certainly a good lift for our team’s morale so we hope we can continue good performances for rest of the season.”

Key to success: “Make no mistakes and have a good qualifying session. Mid-Ohio is a great track but it’s difficult to overtake as is generally the case with road courses. So starting in a high position certainly helps towards getting a strong result, and after having had a good test day there, I’m looking forward to having another good race weekend.”

Jack Hawksworth On:

Mid-Ohio circuit: “Mid-Ohio is one of the most technical and flowing tracks on the schedule. It demands not only a good car in the high speed and low speed sections but also good technique with clean footwork in the low speed rhythm section and commitment in the high speed sections.”

Last week’s test session: “It was positive for us, we learnt a lot about the evolution of the circuit in both hot and cooler conditions. I think we will be able to look back on certain areas from the test to help us develop the car as the weekend progresses.”

The physicality of the track: “There are some high G corners and some technical twisty sections which keeps the driver very busy.”

How much fuel strategy plays into this race: “It depends on the year. This race has run green the whole way many times before and when it does, then it makes qualifying extremely important as it is certainly a track-position race. However, if a yellow comes out then the whole race can quickly be tipped on its head.”

His favorite section of the course: “I like sector two, the flowing infield section. It rewards precision and accuracy and allows the driver to have some influence.”

Remembering NBC Sports Producer Jenny Nickell: The AJ Foyt Racing team will be among the teams whose cars will carry a memorial tribute logo this weekend which features Jenny’s nickname “Jicknick.” Her nickname stems from her ability to come up with some “jick” about any driver she was doing a graphic on.  It’s testament to her wide-ranging knowledge of all the drivers in motorsports (not just IndyCar). Jenny was a pioneer for women in motorsports broadcasting, a passionate ambassador of racing as well as a great friend to many. Her sudden passing on Tuesday, July 19 has left her many friends, including A.J. Foyt, and NBC Sports Network colleagues (and former colleagues at ABC/ESPN and FOX) in shock. Her family is planning a memorial service later in the year as a celebration of Jenny’s remarkable life and impact on a sport she dearly loved.

Race Report: Honda Indy Toronto

TORONTO (July 17, 2016)—The joy and agony of racing was felt by the ABC Supply team today. For Takuma Sato and the No. 14 crew, there was pure elation as they turned their 20th place start into a top-five finish in the Honda Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place. Sato’s fifth place netted him the Hard Charger Award as the driver who improved his position the most in the 85-lap race around the 1.786-mile street circuit.

Jack Hawksworth, who fought hard for what would have been his first top-10 finish of the season, saw it evaporate with four laps to go when Simon Pagenaud punted the No. 41 car sending Hawksworth into the barrier. “Pagenaud just punted me!” Hawksworth called over the radio. Pagenaud, who escaped without a penalty because officials could not see video of his unsportsmanlike maneuver, went on to finish ninth. The luckless Hawksworth placed 21st.

Sato started the race on the outside of row 10 but he got a great start, avoided an accident that brought out a full course yellow, and was 17th at the end of lap 1.  Hawksworth had started 13th but by lap 10 he was 11th and in the top 10 by lap 16. As teams began to employ different fuel strategies, Hawksworth pitted on lap 20, changing from red tires to black tires, and Sato pitted on lap 22, changing from black tires to reds. Both drivers dropped in the running order.

Having worked their way up to 12th and 13th, the next round of pit stops proved critical. Sato’s crew gambled and pitted under caution on lap 47 which was before their fuel window; they knew they might have to stop for a splash of fuel if the race went green the rest of the way. Hawksworth was going to pit with the leaders as he was running ninth, but a problem with his fueling rig on the first stop prevented him from getting a full load. Fortunately the team caught it before he ran out, and they brought him in five laps later on lap 52. Unfortunately, the stop was under green, which proved costly as he dropped to 20th.

When the full course yellow came out on lap 58 for Josef Newgarden’s one car accident, the ABC cars advanced as the leaders made their final fuel stop on lap 60. When the race went green on lap 63, Sato was in fourth and Hawksworth was ninth--and he soon moved into eighth.

With 30 laps to go, Sato held off Helio Castroneves for 10 laps before dropping back to fifth which is where he finished, tying his career best finish at this track.

“A difficult weekend that ended up quite sweet for the No. 14 car with a fantastic result after having had a difficult qualifying,” Sato said afterwards. “Larry [Foyt] and the engineers made the right call for the strategy and the ABC Supply Honda worked really well and the pit stops were really fantastic. I was able to overtake a few cars on track. We were able to save fuel which was really tight but a couple yellows saved us. I’m proud of my guys, we achieved a really good result.”

Team president Larry Foyt said of the strategy call to pit, “We were in a tough position because you’re in the middle of the pack. You have to take a gamble to try to get a good finish because the guys behind us were all going to pit, so I just decided we needed to do it even though it was a longshot. For it to work, we needed a couple yellows, but they came so it paid off.”

Qualifying Report: Honda Indy Toronto

TORONTO July 16, 2016—“Really disappointing qualifying, a kick in the gut really,” Jack Hawksworth said after barely missing out on advancing to the next round by just six hundredths of a second around the 1.786-mile street circuit in Toronto’s Exhibition Place. Hawksworth posted a time of 1 minute, 0.6930 seconds (105.936mph); he will start 13th on the inside of row seven in the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda.

“We were fast this morning,” said Hawksworth, who was sixth in this morning’s practice, making his No. 41 car the fastest of the Honda-powered cars. “We were very quick on the blacks in qualifying but when we put the reds on, we picked up a bit too much understeer and missed out advancing by a fraction of a second. Disappointed, but the ABC Supply Honda was strong on the blacks and has been strong all weekend. We’re starting in the middle of the pack so hopefully we can have a solid race. We look forward to tomorrow because we have a fast car.”

Takuma Sato was also disappointed with his qualifying run in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda. His fastest timed lap of 1 minute, 1.4012 seconds (104.715mph) puts him 20th on the grid.

“It was a disappointing result having had a strong practice session in the ABC Supply Honda yesterday,” Sato said. “We seemed to struggle in practice this morning and now in qualifying. I don’t know why, we just couldn’t seem to get a good grip and good balance. We’re looking into the data now.”

Sato was pleased with his car yesterday even though he slipped from fourth in Practice 1 to 18th in Practice 2 because he was on the same set of tires for the entire afternoon session. Most of the cars used two sets in the afternoon, and they picked up speed with the second set of new tires. However, the changes the team explored to further improve the car in this morning’s practice yielded both positives and negatives as he finished 15th in that session. More changes before qualifying did not produce the expected results so the team will be poring over the data well into the evening to figure out their next moves before tomorrow morning’s final warmup session.

Scott Dixon won the Verizon P1 Award, snaring it from Helio Castroneves on the final lap of the Firestone Fast Six Round. Dixon’s time of 59.9073 seconds (107.326mph) edged out Castroneves’ time of 59.9425 seconds (107.263mph) by just 3.5 hundredths of a second. Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais and the popular Canadian James Hinchcliffe rounded out the top six.

The Honda Indy Toronto will be broadcast tomorrow afternoon starting at 2:30 p.m. ET on the CNBC network.

Practice Report: Honda Indy Toronto

TORONTO (July 15, 2016)--Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato took to the streets in Toronto’s Exhibition Place today with both drivers making it into the top 10—in different sessions.

Piloting the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, Sato was fourth quickest in the opening session this morning with a time of 1 minute, 3.1925 seconds (101.746mph) while Hawksworth was 21st, his time was 1 minute, 4.2346 seconds (100.096mph). Sebastien Bourdais paced the field posting a time of 1 minute, 2.9290 seconds (102.172mph).

In the afternoon session, it was Hawksworth who improved significantly in his No. 41 ABC Supply Honda, moving into 10th with a time of 1 minute, 2.5737 seconds (102.752mph) while Sato was 14th with a time of 1 minute, 2.6863 seconds (102.657mph). Simon Pagenaud took the top spot posting a time of 1 minute, 1.7081 seconds (104.194mph).

Due to the ongoing construction of a new hotel inside the 1.786-mile circuit, the pit lane was shifted from the south side to the north side of the front straightaway. The change resulted in a portion of the old pit lane now becoming part of the race course and part of the old course becoming part of the new pit lane. The new layout proved challenging for drivers and engineers alike as it changed the configuration of several turns and the track surface is even bumpier than it had been in years past.

“Encouraging day,” Sato said afterwards. “It’s always great fun to come back to Toronto, one of the most challenging street courses in the series, so bumpy, so slippery and so unpredictable. It’s all about the challenge and particularly this year because they changed the track layout due to shifting the pit lane, so that made one of the fastest corners [Turn 11] in the street courses become very slow and very tricky as well because it’s off-camber and has concrete patches, etc.  The engineers and team worked really well; we brought the car with a new philosophy of the setup and we made very good progress, so we collected a lot of good data today. Hopefully we’ll be better tomorrow.”

“We struggled a bit this morning and the car wasn’t too great but we made some changes during the break and the car was a bit better this afternoon,” Hawksworth said. “It’s still lacking some grip, not doing what I want it to do, especially the rear. Hopefully we can find a little bit more bite and get ourselves in a better position for tomorrow.”

There is another 45 minute practice tomorrow morning for teams to do their final tune-ups before qualifying which will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 1:30 p.m. ET. The race will be broadcast live on the sister network CNBC Sunday afternoon starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.