Race Report: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 24, 2013—Takuma Sato’s debut in A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply Honda at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg started off strong, had some rough spots midway through the race but the plucky driver fought his way back to eighth—tying the team’s best performance at the 1.8 mile circuit.
"It was a tough race right at the beginning, we clipped a front wing on the second restart so we had a damaged car most of the race,” Sato said. “Before we changed the front wing we were as far down as 15th. We picked up some pace and were able to overtake a few cars on the track so that was encouraging. There are quite a few things we need to look at but we fought hard today and I want to thank the ABC Supply team for their hard work!"
Qualifying second, Sato ran there until the first pit stop when he switched his used alternate tires for new primary tires. He slipped to third position more because of where he was pitted than a miscue on the crew’s part which sent him out in 7.3 seconds.
On the lap 32 restart, eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe and he battled for third with Sato’s right front wing getting clipped in the process. He lost a couple positions over the next couple laps and was running sixth when the yellow flag came out for debris on lap 45.
Although one of the wings struts was partially broken, the team didn’t want to sacrifice track position by replacing it on the next pit stop because Sato appeared to be able to hold his own. However, the drink system on his helmet malfunctioned and when the tire changer had to hand him a drink bottle, plus change the tire and make a front wing adjustment, Sato lost precious seconds and dropped from sixth to 12th.
Those troubles became magnified on the next stop – also under caution--when Sato entered in 9th position (partly due to how pit stops were cycling out). He stalled the engine as he tried to catch a water bottle tossed to him by his trainer who was responding to Sato’s animated hand signal during the stop. After getting restarted, he rejoined the field in 13th. Since he was the last car on the lead lap, the ABC Supply team brought him in again to change the wing which they did in under 11 seconds. He pitted again to top off fuel, and after pole winner Will Power’s misfortune, Sato restarted in 13th position.
With 26 laps left, Sato set sail on the restart. He worked his way past five cars, nipping Justin Wilson on the final lap for eighth, which puts Sato and the No. 14 eighth in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings.
“It was good to get the first one under our belt,” said Team Director Larry Foyt. “We started out with a really competitive race car but we just had some bad luck – we damaged the front wing early in the race but with track position, we couldn’t afford to change it. After we had an issue later, we decided to go ahead and change it during a long yellow and the car was back to where it needed to be. So it was just a little bit of bad luck with some on track stuff but it was a good start and good to get a top 10. When you have a rough day and still get a top 10, I think that’s a good gauge of where we’re at, so hopefully even on bad days, that’s what we hope to achieve.”
Hinchcliffe’s victory was his first in an Indy car. The Canadian was followed across the line by Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon.
Sato and the ABC Supply team will head to Texas Motor Speedway to test this Wednesday afternoon and evening. Afterwards, Sato will head south to Mexico with his family for a short vacation before the next race which will be held at the picturesque Barber Motorsport Park outside of Birmingham, Ala. on April 7.