Race Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. April 26—Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth drove their hearts out in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Sunday afternoon but the results won’t show that.

Starting side by side in row 10, the drivers set out to gain what they could after a tough day in qualifying. They began by gaining several spots in the opening laps. Around lap 15 of the 90-lap race, some cars began pitting early in their fuel window. However, the ABC Supply Hondas were running competitive laps and the team kept them out because they were catching the cars ahead.

That’s when the first hammer dropped.

As Will Power exited the pits on lap 19, Sato was running 11th and approaching Turn 1. Power, who didn’t see Sato or was trying to beat him to the corner—on cold tires no less—collided with Sato, damaging the nose.

“I had the collision with Will which looked like he didn’t see me when I was already committed into the turn,” said Sato afterwards. “He just came out of the pit and we were side by side and I tried to avoid him but it was not possible. He is the last guy I would want to hit out there.”

Officials penalized Power for avoidable contact, and when Power saw the replay after the race, he made a point to apologize to Sato for the incident. Debris from the accident brought out the first of two cautions and everyone pitted. Power took his drive-through-pitlane penalty after the race restarted.

Hawksworth got a good restart and began working his way through the field and moved into the top five when he didn’t pit during the second caution period [laps 34-38] for the accident between Stefano Coletti and James Jakes.

When Hawksworth pitted just past halfway (under green), he dropped back to 21st but again as stops began cycling through, he moved up to 11th. His final stop on lap 65 proved his undoing as a broken air gun resulted in an extra-long stop. The gains he’d made evaporated, and he rejoined the field in 21st which is where he finished.

“I didn’t get a great start off the line, got caught in it in the first corner but got my rhythm in the first stint and picked off a few cars,” Hawksworth recounted. “Then we pitted and had a good second stint and were running with Pagenaud and Kanaan. On the restart [lap 39], I passed Pagenaud but couldn’t stop the car on the exit and I ended up losing that spot. Then we settled into a rhythm and were doing ok but we died there on the reds at the end and should have pitted a lap earlier. But when we did pit, we had an issue [airgun broke] and we lost a lot of time in the pits. So then it was day done and we just had to bring the car home. It’s disappointing really because we could have gotten a top 10 or 11 out of it.”

Sato, who had had a good stint on red tires, went with a second set of reds after pitting under caution on lap 35. However, the tire degradation was pretty severe for the length of the next fuel stint, particularly since it was under green the entire time. His lap times began falling off. He soldiered on but he lost eight positions over two laps and finally pitted on lap 64. He still had to save fuel to make it to the end of 90 laps which he was able to do. He finished 17th.

“It was good to finish the race under the very tough and difficult circumstances. At the start of the race we gained a couple positions and we were working through our strategy when the yellow came out and we tried to take advantage of it so we pitted. I think the decision was ok as there were a couple other good cars on the same strategy. We used red tires in two stints but one stint was really long and later in that stint we were struggling to keep pace quite a lot. Now you can say we should have come in change tires get a splash of fuel, etc. but at that time it was a difficult decision and we were losing a lot of positions but the team decided at the time to stay out so I would only have one more pit stop. It was a tough day but we learned something for both cars and hopefully we can put it to good use for the Indy Grand Prix.”

Josef Newgarden scored his first career victory driving for Sarah Fisher whose team merged with Ed Carpenter’s this year. Second through fifth were Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The teams will be heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway later this week to test next Sunday on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time with the superspeedway aero kits. Then they will switch to the road course kit later that week as they prepare for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indy which will be run on May 9. It will be broadcast live on ABC-TV starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.