Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 13, 2016—The Firestone Grand Prix got off to a rocky start for Takuma Sato and his No. 14 ABC Supply team but their “Never give up” attitude paid off with a sixth place finish today after starting tenth. Jack Hawksworth, who started ninth, battled back from a mid-race incident and a drive-through penalty to finish 11thin his No. 41 ABC Supply Honda.
Sato’s woes began on the first lap when he sustained a cut right rear tire from a competitor’s front wing. He had to pit for new tires which dropped him to 21st on the 22-car grid. Then it was a matter of fuel and tire strategy to keep him in the hunt; he had one of the fastest cars on the track.
A bold move on a lap 56 restart saw Sato vault from 14th to 11th entering Turn 1. However, a multi-car melee up ahead resulted in a blocked track in turn 4. Sato nearly squeezed through unscathed but clipped Graham Rahal who had spun in the multi-car incident. Sato damaged his front wing and cut a tire, so he had to pit for a new nose and tires despite emerging in eighth.
Hawksworth, who was taken wide on that restart and lost several positions, came upon the incident in turn 4 but had nowhere to go. The track was blocked with at least eight cars involved, making the track look like an IndyCar parking lot. Hawksworth sustained a damaged right rear bumper and rear wing which needed to be replaced. He pitted for repairs–he couldn’t make another lap–when the pits were closed and received a drive-through penalty under green for the infraction.
Working fast, his crew replaced the rear wing on the No. 41 car without losing a lap. Sato’s crew replaced the nose assembly during that caution period too but he could wait until the pits were open to do so. The cars emerged in 12th (No. 14) and 16th (no. 41) positions. Sato was able to move up through the ranks passing several cars and then benefitting from a couple cars having mechanical issues.
“I have good memories from St. Pete,” said Sato afterwards. “We had a difficult time in qualifying but the boys and the engineers did a fantastic job to bring the car back and we had a very strong race pace. The ABC Supply team did a great job in the pits and I’m happy we were able to come back twice.”
Hawksworth climbed from 16th to 11th despite having to make seven pit stops.
“We struggled for pace throughout the race but we were in the ballpark on strategy,” the 25-year-old Brit said. “On that one restart, I lost some positions with the congestion in Turn 1 and then it stacked up in front of me in Turn 4 and I had nowhere to go. We had to replace the rear wing but I’m glad we were able to finish 11th.”
“It was a tough day for a lot of people, including us,” said Team President Larry Foyt, who is also the race strategist on Sato’s car. “On Takuma’s car, to have a puncture on the first lap and drop back to nearly last, that’s a lot to come back from but he hung in there and the team did a great job in the pits. He had a really fast car so that helped too. Getting up to sixth made it a really good day; it was a long day and a tough day but that’s how you finish well in a championship, if on the bad days we can keep it in the top 10, I think we’ll be in good shape. I don’t know everything that happened with Jack’s car because I haven’t talked to them yet but he came back to finish 11th. Having two cars come out and run pretty decent is a good start to our 2016 campaign.”
Juan Pablo Montoya won the race. He was followed by teammate Simon Pagenaud. Ryan Hunter-Reay passed Helio Castroneves with four laps to go, robbing Team Penske of a podium sweep. Mikhail Aleshin finished fifth in his return to IndyCar after a year’s absence.
Pole winner Will Power was replaced by veteran Oriol Servia when it was determined that Power had sustained a mild concussion from an accident on Friday. Servia started in the rear of the field which moved everyone up one spot on the grid. INDYCAR released the following statement: “Following his on-track incident on Friday Will Power displayed no signs of injury and was evaluated and cleared by the INDYCAR Medical team. Per INDYCAR protocol we also evaluated the data collected from his ear accelerometers, which provides data specific to the impact on a driver’s head, and nothing gathered from that data indicated further evaluation was required. After learning of Will’s symptoms following qualifications Saturdayhe was required to submit to another evaluation by INDYCAR Medical Director Geoffery Billows, at which point he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. Power has been entered into INDYCAR’s concussion protocol and will need to be re-evaluated prior to being cleared to drive.”
The ABC Supply team heads to Barber Motorsports Course tomorrow for a one day test on the picturesque circuit on Tuesday. There will be a three week break until the April 2 Phoenix Grand Prix which marks the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Phoenix International Raceway.