Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 30, 2014—A disappointing finish. Such is the mindset of the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing team that a top-10 finish in the Verizon IndyCar Series no longer ranks as a good day. Takuma Sato, who won the Verizon P1 award with the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, finished seventh in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“In the end it was a very tough day today,” Sato said. “The start off the line was good and I got into a nice rhythm the first stint but it looks like we didn’t have enough speed on the second and third set of tires—we struggled a bit to get the balance right. We had a little issue with the pit stop as well, lost a couple places. I tried hard but it was difficult to gain positions on the track today. Overall, I think after such a great qualifying, it’s a disappointing finish. At least the team fought really hard and it was a good job for the weekend and we brought home some points.”
Will Power won the race while Ryan Hunter Reay finished second. Third through fifth were Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud.
Sato and the entire ABC Supply team had been fast the first two days on the 1.8-mile street course, and topped qualifying to win the pole—Sato’s fourth and the team’s 44th. They were fast at the start of the 110-lap race as Sato leapt ahead of row-mate Tony Kanaan to easily take the lead into Turn-1 and extend it to nearly six seconds by the time of his first pit stop.Sato’s pit stop was flawless, but switching from the Firestone alternate (red-rimmed) tires to the harder compound primary black tires, changed the handling on the car enough that Will Power was able to take the lead.
Team Director Larry Foyt told Sato that the air pressures didn’t come up as quickly as they expected but that they will adjust for the next set of tires. Sato lost track position to Power but maintained his second place standing. Another flawless stop on lap 58 saw Sato come out in fifth as different fuel strategies emerged.
A full course yellow on lap 74 (for Charlie Kimball’s excursion into a tire barrier), set up for a flurry of pit stops once the pits were opened. A combination of pit location (stall 16) and a two-second miscue on the stop, saw Sato lose a couple spots to the Target Ganassi team which was pitted in stalls 1 and 9.
However, he was on the softer red tires and there was a possibility of overtaking the Target Ganassi cars which were on the harder black tires. On the restart, leader Will Power’s gamesmanship with teammate Helio Castroneves, who was running second, created an accordion effect and Sato did a good job of avoiding contact as cars scrambled. In the melee, rookie Jack Hawksworth spun and collected Marco Andretti.
The next restart went off without a hitch, setting up a 24-lap dash to the finish. Of the top eight runners, only Ryan Hunter-Reay was able to gain a position, when he overtook Castroneves for second. Sato couldn’t overtake sixth place Kanaan but was able to keep eighth place Justin Wilson at bay.
Sato’s seventh place finish is the team’s best finish at this event. In two weeks the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Long Beach, Calif. where Sato claimed his first IndyCar victory a year ago. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be televised live by NBC Sports Network on Sunday, April 13 starting at 4 p.m. ET.