Race Report: Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS April 12, 2015–There was nothing easy about this race weekend in the Big Easy for AJ Foyt Racing’s ABC Supply team in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first appearance at NOLA Motorsports Park, located just outside of New Orleans.

“A difficult weekend continues,” said Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 14 Honda.

“It’s not been a good weekend on any front,” echoed No. 41 Honda driver Jack Hawksworth.

The drivers’ disappointment was palpable as both were eliminated on restarts in the inaugural race that was defined by yellow flags. Indeed, only 31 minutes of the one hour, 45 minute race was run under green.

One driver’s disappointment was another’s elation though. James Hinchcliffe won the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana because his team gambled on pit strategy, and the large amount of caution laps favored his team’s decision to make just one pit stop early. He vaulted to the front when the leaders pitted for a second time on lap 33 of the 47-lap race. The gamble worked since the race was to end either at 75 laps or 105 minutes, whichever came first. Following Hinchcliffe to the line were Helio Castroneves, James Jakes, Simona DeSilvestro, and Juan Pablo Montoya, who led a race-high 31 laps.

The ABC Supply team did not find the ‘sweet spots’ on the 14 and 41 cars the first two days, but the team caught a break when the Hawksworth and Sato started eighth and 13th after qualifying was rained out and the grid was set by owners’ points.

In the race, the struggle continued as both drivers slipped backwards initially. However, when Sato pitted on lap 11 for alternate tires–and then Hawksworth on lap 13–the cars were handling better.

The first of six full course cautions came out on lap 15 for Gabby Chavez’s stall on track after spinning off. On the lap 19 restart, Hawksworth was behind Jakes when Jakes hit the curb as he rounded the last turn before the main straight. Jakes spun and Hawksworth went to avoid him only to have Jakes drift into his path and force Hawksworth into the tire barrier. The 41 car sustained substantial damage and could not continue. Hawksworth finished 24th. Jakes went on to finish third–winning on a bet just like his teammate Hinchcliffe.

“On a restart, someone spun in front of me and I had nowhere to go and we hit and I ended up in the tire barrier,” said Hawksworth. “It was very unfortunate and there was nothing we could do about it. It’s not been a good weekend on any front. We need to analyze what went wrong and put it behind us.”

Sato, whose struggles appeared to be over once the team switched him from wet tires to red slicks, had climbed from 20th to 12th when he pitted with the leaders on lap 33 during a caution period. A nine-second stop cost him a position but the six cars that didn’t pit (and therefore leapt to the front of the field) relegated Sato to 19th on the track. It was on that restart that Sato’s race took a terminal turn for the worse.

“It was very tricky conditions because we started the race quite wet but the rain had stopped,” Sato explained. “The line was getting drier every lap. We struggled with the grip and balance [in the beginning] so we decided to come in relatively early for slicks. We picked up good pace and gained some positions. Then on a restart Charlie Kimball and someone else tangled and came back to me and we had contact. It broke the sidepod and the wire loom so I couldn’t shift gears. Tough day.” He was credited with 22nd.

The team heads back to Texas tonight and will repair both cars before the ABC Supply transporters take off for California on Tuesday. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, a race Sato won in 2013, takes place on Sunday, April 19th. It will be televised live on NBC Sports Network at 4 p.m. ET.

“The good thing about this series is there’s always another race next weekend, so we can put it [a bad one] behind us,” Hawksworth concluded.