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Race Report: INDYCAR Grand Prix

INDIANAPOLIS—Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. A successful race strategy, savvy driving in wet conditions, a good car and solid pit stops all combined for Matheus Leist to deliver the ABC Supply Racing team its best finish since Takuma Sato drove for the team.

Leist, 20, earned a career-best finish of fourth in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.43 mile road course in a race that was as entertaining on NBC’s debut broadcast of the NTT IndyCar Series as it was in person.

Starting 21st after a particularly tough day yesterday when they struggled for speed, Leist’s No. 4 team used an alternate fuel strategy which panned out (for once) when a full course yellow came on lap 60 for Helio Castroneves’ spin. Leist had pitted a lap earlier from 14th to take rain tires because the rain started falling more heavily. He vaulted to fourth once the leaders made their final stop (for rain tires) under that caution on lap 63.

The seven laps of caution at that point in the race enabled everyone to make it to the end without fear of running out of fuel.

The race restarted on lap 68, and Leist passed Ed Jones the following lap to take third. Simon Pagenaud, a two-time winner of this event, moved into striking distance of Leist within three laps and spent the next three laps pressing him hard before making the successful pass, dropping Leist to fourth with just 10 laps remaining in the 85-lap race.

Pagenaud would go on to win the event, snaring victory from Scott Dixon by passing him with two laps to go to become a three-time winner—tying his teammate Will Power for wins in this event. Scott Dixon finished second, Jack Harvey posted a career best finish of third. Spencer Pigot finished fifth.

It was an ebullient Leist who emerged from the cockpit, receiving congrats from his crew and then Tony Kanaan.

“It’s an awesome place to have my best finish in IndyCar, and if you go back to 2017, here is where I had my first best finish (victory in the Freedom 100) in Indy Lights too, so I think this place likes me,” Leist said. “At the same time I like it, so let’s try to keep the momentum going now for the 500. The race, it was just another tough one. We started from 21st and it had been a pretty tough weekend here until the race.

“But the good thing about this team is that we never gave up and we always kept going, we always kept working hard and trying to improve as much as we could,” Leist continued. “Today before the race I was like ‘Man, today I want the rain to come so we might have a shot here.’ I was probably the only one on the team who wanted it to rain, and when it started raining and I was restarting the race in P4 I knew we had a shot. I knew we could stay there and finish up there and that’s exactly what happened. Just so glad for the team, for all the ABC Supply No. 4 Chevrolet crew – they did an amazing job in the pits and they all deserve it. And also for A.J. We’ve been together a year and a half now pretty much and I am always looking forward for these kind of results. That’s where we belong and where we want to be. So let’s try to keep the momentum going and have a good one in the 500 too.”

Team director George Klotz, who moved from Tony Kanaan’s stand to call Leist’s races this year, said, “The strategy is such that sometimes you can look like a hero and sometimes you can look like a fool. Things went our way today. It helps a lot when you have a decent car, and you’re getting good fuel information and the guys are doing a good job in the pits. It was a good collective team effort today. I couldn’t be happier for A.J. and Matheus both--and the team. The team needed this so badly. It’s a good way to start the month.”

Kanaan, who started 24th, made one of his signature great starts, leapfrogging to 18th on lap 1 after maneuvering through the on track incident involving Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward. Kanaan advanced to 14th before pitting on lap 24. As the race wore on, he seemed to struggle for speed. Then the team took a gamble pitting early for rain tires when the heavy mist turned into steady rain, but the move proved to be too early. Kanaan would end the race in 20th.

“We decided we were going to split the strategy between the 4 and the 14 car and the 4 car got it right,” Kanaan said afterwards. “We (as a team) got our first top-five finish of the year and I’m extremely happy for Matheus. Our day after that, we just started to try different things as far as strategy to see if we could go back to the front but it didn’t work. I’m happy for the team.”

Team patriarch A.J. Foyt was emotional when he greeted Leist in the garage. He clearly enjoyed seeing the youngster take his first top-five finish.

“Well today turned out a lot better than it started because we unloaded here and we were 20th and 24th,” Foyt said in his typical no-nonsense fashion. “We made some changes for the race and then it rained. The young boy did a great job, to run what he did and how he ran up through traffic. I was awful glad to see him finish so well because the kid did a great job. Tony started out good but then he started having trouble, but he brought it home so that was good. We're looking forward to the 500."

Team President Larry Foyt missed the action because he was confined to his hotel room fighting a bout of flu. It is the first race he missed since taking on his role with the team in 2007.

“I hated not being at the track with the team, but I’m fighting a bad flu and this month is too important to risk getting anyone of our group sick,” said Foyt, who arrived in Indianapolis on Thursday. “I must say I truly enjoyed watching the race on NBC on TV and on my laptop with my NBC Gold Pass. The announcers gave great insight and understanding of just how difficult those conditions were for the drivers and teams. The talent in INDYCAR is awesome and the drama of the last stint was great entertainment. The weekend didn’t start off well but I’m so proud of the team for hanging tough and fighting through the adversity. Watching Matt get his career best finish helps me feel better already.”

Foyt expects to be back at the track when action resumes on Tuesday as teams prepare for qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 next weekend. Qualifications will be televised on both NBCSN and NBC over the course of the weekend. The 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 will be broadcast live on NBC for the first time on Sunday, May 26th starting at 11 AM ET.

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