Race Report: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio Aug. 2, 2015–Sophomore driver Jack Hawksworth carried the standard today for the ABC Supply team in the Honda Indy 200 at the picturesque Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Hawksworth started 11th in the No. 41 Honda-powered car and finished eighth for his fifth top-10 finish this season.

Hawksworth had been fast all weekend, which was underscored in the morning warmup when he was third quickest. An off-track excursion at the end of that session necessitated a new front nose but the team remained confident for the race. However, the early cautions did not play out in his favor regarding pit strategy (which was pitting with the leaders), and for the long middle stint he was running in the 20th position.

However, the caution on lap 66 for Sage Karam’s spin came after Hawksworth’s pit stop and he vaulted to 10th as half of the field made their final stops during the full course caution. Hawksworth needed to save fuel to make it to the end but when another caution came out with 10 laps to go, he was told by his race strategist Mitch Davis that “Now we can go racing!” When the checkered fell, he was eighth.

“It was a long race with lots going on,” said Hawksworth, whose hands were bruised earlier in the day from his shunt with a tire barrier. “We couldn’t catch a break at the start and then we were running eighth when the caution bit us and we cycled to the back. The car was okay once the tires came in, but we struggled on the initial start and restarts because we didn’t have as much grip as we did in practice, so we have to look into that. But we hung in there all day and it was one of those days where it could have all gone wrong but we got a break with the caution at the end, passed a couple cars and got a top-10 finish. It’s good to get some points.”

Sadly, Takuma Sato, making his 100th Verizon IndyCar Series start, did not fare as well. Starting 16th in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, the team pursued an alternate fuel strategy, pitting before the end of the fuel stint to get out of sequence with the field. By doing that, Sato gets in clean air and can log faster lap times since he isn’t hampered by traffic.

Several other teams had the same idea so the track was not quite as open. On lap 20, rookie Stefano Coletti was attempting to pass Sato and the front wing of Coletti made contact with Sato’s rear bumper sending him into a spin. Sato recovered and made it back to the pits but his rear wing assembly was damaged and had to be replaced.

The team was confident that it could be done in short order but the damage from the collision resulted in a freak breakage which prevented them from attaching the new wing assembly smoothly. It took more than a lap to assess the unusual circumstances and find the solution. By the time Sato rejoined the field, he was two laps down. An off track excursion on lap 60 resulted in the left rear bumper being torn so Sato had to retire from the race.

“A very disappointing race,” said Sato afterwards. “We took an early pit stop because this track is so difficult to overtake and the alternate strategy opens up some opportunities. Unfortunately we had an incident with Coletti who tried to overtake me and clipped my rear wing and damaged it. We had to come back to replace the entire rear assembly. Something happened and it took too long so we went down a couple laps. It’s very difficult to recover from that. In the end we ran wide, went off track and damaged the rear bumper, and we had to retire. It’s very disappointing but hopefully we will be strong in the last two races.”

Coming from Japan to share in Sato’s milestone achievement were 27 members of his international fan club, and his mother, Akiko, who usually makes one race a year. In a story on IndyCar.com penned by Dave Lewandowski, Akiko Sato said, “When I go to the races, I go not only as a mother but as one of Taku’s fans. I’m happy he continues to pursue his dreams. He had a very strong wish for racing and worked very hard to get where he is today.”

Sato wore specially designed helmets this weekend which will be auctioned off in Japan to benefit the charity ‘With you Japan’ that he founded in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquakes that struck his country in 2011.

Designed by Tomo (who designs most of Sato’s merchandise) and Sato, the helmet features the number 100 on the left side along with Mid Ohio and the today’s race date. The right side has the number 001, Sao Paulo and Mar 14, 2010 (his first race). Down the middle are outlines of all of the circuits he has raced on in his 100 starts. The practice helmet’s color scheme is blue, with red and white while the race helmet is blue chrome with red and white accents; both helmets were painted by Studio Kome, the company that paints all of Sato’s helmets.

Ohioan Graham Rahal won the race at his hometown track to pull within nine points of Series points leader Juan Pablo Montoya. Finishing second through fifth were Justin Wilson, Simon Pagenaud, pole winner Scott Dixon, and his teammate Tony Kanaan.

The IndyCar Series returns to action at Pocono International Raceway Aug. 22-23 for the ABC Supply 500. The race will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 2 p.m. ET.