Race Report: Kohler Grand Prix at Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. June 26, 2016—Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth raced strong in their first IndyCar race at Road America but the results for the Kohler Grand Prix won’t show just how strong their ABC Supply Hondas ran today before a record crowd at one of America’s most beautiful road courses.

Sato started 15th and Hawksworth 18th in the 50-lap race around the four-mile long course through the Wisconsin Dells. Hawksworth spun on the opening lap in Turn 5 dropping to last but he kept going and then began chasing down the field. His lap times were as fast as the leaders, and by the time of his first pit stop on lap 11, he had passed seven cars.

Sato also put on a show as he moved from 15th to 10th by the time of his first stop on lap 12. The ABC Supply crew then proved to be just as fast in the pits as they sent him on after a 7.65 second stop. He went from 10th to eighth by the time the stops cycled out.

Hawksworth stop was not quite as efficient and on exit, he got stuck behind a rookie who wasn’t working as well. However, the used red tires he took on didn’t work quite as well either. The next stint on blacks was not much better but Hawksworth soldiered on.

Unfortunately, a miscalculation on the pit speed limiters cost both Sato and Hawksworth dearly. Hawksworth was the first driver to get a drive-through penalty for being too fast on pit lane on his lap 24 pit stop for black tires. The following lap Sato was cited for the same infraction, and given his 7.23 second stop, it was particularly gutting. He went from seventh to 18th.

By the time the next cycle of pits stops rolled around, Sato had climbed back to 13th. Paying attention to the pit lane speed, Sato was livid when the call came over the radio that he had incurred another drive through penalty. The team is working with the Honda engineers to understand what caused the problem with the pit speed limiter. That penalty ended his chances for a top 10 finish. In fact, race strategist Larry Foyt radioed to him to “just bring it home.”

“It was great work from the team considering we couldn’t come to the test,” said Sato afterwards. “We caught up to the others in the practice sessions but then we had a disappointing qualifying run. However, I was quite happy to show our car’s true performance in the race. In the first half of the race I was able to overtake several cars and we got up to P-8. Unfortunately we had an issue with a pit speed limiter and we caught a pit lane speed penalty twice and that is why the result is not a true reflection of our performance. The ABC guys had awesome pit stops—they were brilliant! We’re really close, so we’ll just keep on working hard.”

Hawksworth had a clean third stop which came just before a full course caution for Conor Daly’s excursion into the Turn 1 tire barriers—Daly was not hurt. The No. 41 ABC Supply team’s strategy to save their final set of new red tires for the last stop worked well. Hawksworth was running 17th when he pitted, and when the green flag flew four laps later, he was charging hard. By the time the checkered flag waved seven laps later, he had moved into 11th, barely missing the top 10.

“It was an interesting race,” Hawksworth said. “At the beginning we were one of the fastest cars on the track—the car was absolutely flying and we passed five or six cars and I thought, ‘Oh this is going to be a good day’. Unfortunately we had an issue on the first stop and we came out behind [Rookie Spencer] Pigot which messed us up in that second stint. The used reds went away a lot so we pitted for blacks and they were not that great. We got the new reds on at the end and the car felt good. The caution came out right after that so I was able to pick up some positions on the restart and finished 11th. I also got a drive through which didn’t help because I was point 1 mph over the pit lane speed which was disappointing but it was an up and down race.”

The team is heading to Iowa to test both cars at the high-banked oval on Wednesday in preparation for their race there on Sunday, July 10th.

Will Power won the Kohler Grand Prix from the pole position. Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top five.