Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 29, 2015–‘It ain’t over til it’s over.’

Jack Hawksworth took that famous Yogi Berra quote to heart in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg today.

Hawksworth started 21st and clawed his way to an eighth place finish in the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda after trouble early in the 110-lap race. Takuma Sato, who started fifth in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, had contact on a restart and pitted for a new front wing. Relegated to last on lap 36, he came back to finish 13th.

Juan Pablo Montoya beat out pole winner and teammate Will Power to claim the victory. Third through fifth were Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Due to Hawksworth’s early pit stop to replace the damaged front wing, his team opted for an alternate fuel strategy. As drivers began pitting for fuel around lap 22, Hawksworth advanced through the field and was third when the caution for debris was called on lap 26. On the lap 32 restart, Hawksworth lost a couple positions as the other drivers were on fresh tires. At the same time, Sato and Sebastien Bourdais made contact while battling for sixth. The hit was hard enough to damage Sato’s wing, which he limped around with until the team saw it was too damaged to continue and called him in on lap 36.

Thanks to the generosity of team owner Dale Coyne who lent the ABC Supply team one of his front wings (his car had already retired from the race), Sato was back in action.

Meanwhile, Hawksworth had pitted on lap 35 under caution and then opted to stay out during the next caution period on lap 47, so he vaulted from 15th to the lead, which he held until the race went green on lap 53. The young Brit ran in the top four until pitting on lap 70, which dropped him back to 18th. As the final round of pit stops began around lap 80, Hawksworth moved up to third again. He made his final pit stop for about three seconds of fuel on lap 95 under green. He rejoined the race in 12th position, ran his fastest lap of the race on lap 99, and then began passing more cars with just 10 laps to go.

“That was a really fun race, really entertaining,” said Hawksworth. “After the disappointment in qualifying, the guys really worked hard last night and found what was wrong and corrected it and gave me a fast car today. We lost the front wing on the first lap, replaced it then had some contact in the middle of the race and lost an end fence. I didn’t have a clue what was going on out there, I was just pushing like crazy all the way through once we got into clean air because I knew that was going to be important. The guys made good stops, got me in clean air and we finished in the top 10 from the back of the grid. I was really happy for the whole ABC Supply team. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy with an eighth place finish before.”

Sato soldiered on and passed a few cars even though the new wing’s settings were not quite the same, and the car was not quite as good as it had been. However, with a set of new red tires in the final stint of the race, Sato set his fastest lap of the race.

“It was a tough race,” Sato said afterwards. “We got a good start and gained a position, but then after a restart, there was a bottleneck in turn 1 and I was boxed in. Bourdais and I touched and it damaged the front wing. We had to change it and that really decided our race. We were able to overtake a few positions, but the time we lost was too great and we couldn’t get back to the front. It was a tough one for our ABC Supply team but hopefully we got some good data for the next race.”

AJ Foyt Racing Team President Larry Foyt was satisfied with his ABC Supply team’s efforts this weekend.

“Jack drove a great race, and Takuma did a good job to finish,” said Foyt. “Having two cars is a great help. With the short amount of testing that we had and then coming here, we saw huge benefits from it. It was really nice to be able to validate some things, and go in different directions. For example, when we had the problem with Jack’s car in qualifying, if we were a one car team, we might have wondered if it was the setup or something mechanically with the car that could be amiss. Knowing that Takuma’s car was good with a similar setup was a huge help to us because we knew we needed to find something amiss with Jack’s car. The multi-car team is already paying dividends. Today we were able to split strategies with both cars which was exciting, and one got a top-10 out of it, so we’re definitely seeing the benefits already.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series will race for the first time at NOLA Motorsports Park outside of New Orleans on April 12th. That race will be televised by NBC Sports Network starting at 3 p.m. ET.