Race Report: MAVTV 500

FONTANA, Calif. June 27, 2015–The box score results will show Takuma Sato finished 18th today at Auto Club Speedway, a two-mile banked superspeedway in Southern California. But for those who witnessed the MAVTV 500 either in person or on the NBC Sports Network broadcast, they saw Sato drive the race of his life for 240 pf the 250-lap race.

Teammate Jack Hawksworth wasn’t quite as competitive in his No. 41 ABC Supply Honda but he was able to finish 10th, his first top-10 since placing seventh in Detroit last month.

It appeared Sato could put his No. 14 ABC Supply Honda anywhere on the track running high, low or in the middle of the four (and sometimes five) groove track. Although he favored the high line, he made some of his most dramatic passes on the low side entering Turn 1, thus bringing to mind “No attack, no chance.”

Sato led six times for a total of 31 laps. Twice he had to pit for new bodywork, taking a new nose on lap 138 -which the ABC Supply team fitted along with tires and fuel in just 13.3 seconds! He restarted 14th and took the lead back on lap 174.

He pitted from fourth on lap 188 but got hit by Sage Karam which required replacing the rear bumper on lap 197 during the caution period for debris (a result of the Karam punt). This replacement took longer and Sato lost a lap which he regained when the yellow came out on lap 221 (for debris).Now back on the lead lap, Sato pitted on lap 224 while 17th.

When the green came out on lap 227, it was a 23-lap sprint race to the checkers. Sato, still 17th, set the fastest lap of the race (218.164mph) on lap 229. Eight laps later he was fourth. On lap 240, he became the filling in a Chevy sandwich as he exited Turn 4 with Will Power to his right and Scott Dixon to his left. Power squeezed down from the high line and Dixon drifted up from the low line. Sato tried to avoid Power but then he couldn’t avoid Dixon too and they touched wheels, sending Sato into Power and causing both cars to spin and hit the outside wall hard. They slid across the track and came to rest on the infield. Both drivers emerged unscathed but deeply disappointed.

“It was a big shame we couldn’t finish the race,” Sato said afterwards. “The No. 14 car was really strong and really fast. We had some situations where we had to come from the back twice and we did. The last 25 laps was a crazy race, three wide and sometimes four wide which I enjoyed it myself. We were competitive and it was good racing, very exciting. But at the very end, Power was outside and then Dixon was inside and I was in the middle and then all I could see was the two cars coming together with me in the middle. It was impossible to avoid and both sides of the car got touched and we didn’t finish the race. The ABC crew did a good job today. And the car was tremendously fast so I am very appreciative and proud of the entire team. I wish we had finished the race because it would have been a super result.”

The race was stopped with six laps to go as the track was cleared of debris. When the pits were opened, Hawksworth, in 12th, pitted for fresh rubber. He came out 14th and had moved into 12th the race was slowed for a final time with two laps to go. Ryan Hunter-Reay got tapped by Juan Pablo Montoya and Hunter-Reay tangled with Ryan Briscoe who launched into the air with a spectacular flip. Again, both drivers emerged uninjured.

The race finished under yellow with Graham Rahal taking the win, his first since 2008. Second through fifth were Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Montoya and Karam, all of whom led at least one lap of the race.

Hawksworth’s tenth place finish is his best finish on a superspeedway and matches last year’s performance at the one mile oval in Milwaukee.

“We finally got another top 10 after what seems like a long, long time,” Hawksworth said. “But it was a good job from the ABC Supply guys. It’s been a difficult few races but at least we got some points on the board. The race itself was quite long, we seemed to be good on old tires at the end of the stint but on new tires at the start we weren’t quite quick enough. Overall the car was pretty decent and we just kind of hung in there and ended up finishing tenth, so not too bad.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action on Sunday, July 12th with the live broadcast of the ABC Supply 250 at the Milwaukee Mile starting at 5 p.m. ET.