(MADISON, IL) It was quite the pendulum swing within a span of a week for NTT IndyCar Series driver Takuma Sato.
One week ago at Pocono Raceway, Sato – the signature pilot for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – was directly involved in a first lap crash that eliminated five cars from the race. Consider it a setback for the 44-year old.
Fast-forward one week later a Sato propels his #39 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda to victory at Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
By utilizing a race strategy that took advantage of race cautions, Sato claimed the lead on Lap 187 within the 248-lap feature on the Madison 1.25 oval and staved off a hard charge from Ed Carpenter to claim the checkered flags with a narrow .0399 of a second differential.
It literally was a reversal of fortune for Sato late-Saturday as he picked up his second win of the season, and his fifth overall, with a finishing average speed of 136.874 miles per hour.
“We made it happen today,” he said afterwards. “A big thank you to the team. An incredible team.”
Also incredible was the complexion of the Bommarito 500 podium as Carpenter’s self-owned Chevy finished in the runner-up spot, which marked his first Top 3 appearance since his runner-up finish at the 2018 Indianapolis 500.
Impressively finishing third was 21-year IndyCar vet Tony Kanaan (A.J. Foyt Enterprises), who started in the next to last row at race proper. He also took advantage of the same race strategy under yellow as the top two finishers and clocked in with a final differential of an eyelash of two seconds.
Saturday’s result was his first podium finish since a runner-up result at Texas in 2017. Kanaan was eighteenth in the NTT IndyCar points standings heading into the Madison race so the ending result was especially rewarding.
“We played the strategies out but once we were in the front, I tried to hang in there,” the affable driver said afterwards. “I’m really happy for the team and really happy to shut up some of the people that criticize us. When I go through tough times, I perform better.”
Rookie Santino Ferrucci (Dale Coyne Racing) finished fourth which equaled his personal best. His #19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda led the most laps of the event (91 out of 248) and his fate was decided when a late-pit appearance yielded less-than-successful results.
In the NTT IndyCar points standings, the five drivers that were mathematically eligible to stay in competition for the crown heading towards the weekend had mixed results. Current points leader Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) claimed the pole for the weekend and appeared to be headed to a fourth place finish on the final lap but a small skirmish and spinout out of Turn 4 resulted in a seventh-place finish and raise his point total to 566.
Teammate Simon Pagenaud, who entered the weekend third in the standings, finished fifth at Gateway and moved in to second place in the hierarchy and trails Newgarden by 38 points with two races left.
Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autopsort), who entered the weekend in second in the series order, had a troubling performance at Madison and finished thirteenth which dropped him to third place in the standings and trails 46 points behind the leader.
Defending IndyCar champion Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) had radiator issues from the onset that ruined any chance at success. Starting eighth on the grid, the #9 PNC Bank Honda found itself nestled in the pits early and had to be taken to the garage for observation. Although the car made its way back onto the track, Dixon’s run would be silenced after only completing 136 laps, which resulted in a twentieth-place finish that push him 70 points behind Newgarden in the standings.
Even worse was the outcome for Will Power (Team Penske) whose small glimmer of hope for title contention was erased after his #12 Verizon Chevrolet made contact into the Turn 4 wall in Lap 52 after inheriting the race lead one lap prior.
The series’ 17-race docket continues with the penultimate race, The Grand Prix of Portland, next Sunday.