Race Report: Firestone 550

FT WORTH, Texas June 8, 2013—Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply team bounced back from a problem-filled Friday to finish 11th Saturday night in the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway. The finish allowed him to move to fifth in the IZOD IndyCar standings.

Sato’s problems on Friday began with the gearbox in the first practice which saw him lose track time and eventually the chance to qualify. The team fixed the gearbox but did not make it to the tech line within the allotted time (missed it by two minutes) and thus weren’t allowed to qualify. Sato started 21st in the 24-car field as the three cars behind him were subjected to 10-spot grid penalties due to unapproved engine changes.

In the first stint, Sato moved up a few positions, but by stretching his fuel, he was able to take advantage of a lap 54 caution and pit under yellow. When the race restarted on lap 63, he was running fifth. He slipped to seventh when the second round of stops began. Pitting under green on lap 109, Sato lost the advantage he had gained earlier as the caution came out four laps later. He dropped to 12th when others were able to gain track position by pitting under yellow.

In the next two stints he ran in the top 12 and as the race wore down, he climbed to seventh as the final round of stops began. However, Sato needed a splash of fuel to make it to the end. Losing time on track because of tire wear, the team pitted him early in the fuel window so he could take on fuel and fresh rubber. He dropped to 14th but then was able to climb back up to 11th with 15 laps remaining in the 228-lap race.

“It was a hard race on the track with quite a big degradation of the tires,” said Sato. “The first seven laps were good and then gradually you’d lose the balance and grip. It was difficult to get the balance right. Our pit stops were good but we were a little bit out of sequence.  Unfortunately we had a yellow right after we pitted which shuffled us back.  Our track position made it tough to get back to the top group but we did regain some positions and the ABC Supply boys did a good job.  With the problems we had yesterday, it was a good recovery.”

Helio Castroneves won the race, the first victory of the season for Team Penske and the seventh different winner in eight races. Second through fifth were Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti.

The team heads to the Milwaukee Mile this week for the Milwaukee Fest. The 250-lap race will be broadcast live on Saturday afternoon starting at 4:00pm ET on the NBC Sports Network.