Sato, Honda Victorious in Indy Car Return to Portland

  • Takuma Sato leads 1-2-3 Honda sweep in front of large Pacific Northwest crowd
  • Scott Dixon recovers from opening lap crash to finish fifth, increase championship lead
  • 10th win of 2018 for Honda; with all five Honda teams have now visited Victory Circle

Takuma Sato emerged the winner and headed a 1-2-3 podium sweep for Honda today at Portland International Raceway, in a wild Verizon IndyCar Series return to the Pacific Northwest after a 10-year absence.

The tone for the race was set moments after the field took the green flag to start the 105-lap contest, as Zach Veach and James Hinchcliffe made contact exiting the “Festival Chicane”, sending Hinchcliffe into a spin and setting off a multi-car collision that eliminated or delayed five cars. Ed Jones and Marco Andretti were eliminated on the spot, with Andretti escaping without apparent injury as his car rolled in the incident. The cars of Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal sustained significant damage, and both retired after completing a handful of laps later in the race.

Championship points leader Scott Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing entry sustained minor damage in the crash, and was forced to come to a complete stop. Fortunately, Dixon was able to keep his Honda engine running and resume at the end of the lead lap.

The resulting six-lap caution period once again resulted in some teams electing to attempt to eliminate a pit stop through fuel savings, that group including Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot, Simon Pagenaud and Dixon. Following three additional caution flags – none for more than four laps – that proved to be the winning strategy.

Sato proved to the best at mixing fuel saving with speed, and led the final 20 laps to edge Hunter-Reay by just over six-tenths of a second at the checkers, with Bourdais another 1.2 seconds back in third. The victory was the 10th of the season for Honda – which clinched the 2018 IndyCar Manufacturers’ Championship last weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park – and all five Honda teams have now won at least one race this season, for the second consecutive year.

Dixon’s recovery drive netted the four-time series champion a fifth-place finish today, and saw him increase his championship lead to 29 points, 598-569, over Alexander Rossi, with one race remaining.

Meanwhile, Rossi headed the “three-stop” group, finishing eighth. With Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden and Will Power finishing 10th and 21st, respectively, the 2018 drivers’ championship contest is now effectively down to Dixon and Rossi.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now heads south to Sonoma Raceway, just outside San Francisco, California, for the September 18, double-points paying IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma. The season-ending race, to determine the 2018 Drivers’ Championship, will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network starting at 6:30 p.m. EDT.

Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) Started 20th, finished first; first IndyCar Series win of 2018, third career victory: “We have had a couple of hard, difficult weekends this year. The final yellow [caution flag] obviously helped, but the car had pace. Since we failed to have a good qualifying, I had two new sets [of tires, available for the race] and our strategy worked beautifully. Look at all these fans here today. I think this is one of the most beautiful days of my life.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andrettti Autosport Honda) Started fifth, finished second: “We gave that one away. The DHL car was the car to beat today – we had the right fuel [strategy], but we had some miscommunication on pit lane. I was saving fuel as Takuma came out of pit lane [after his final stop], and so I didn’t attack. That miscommunication probably cost us the race. I’m pretty bummed right now. I know we had a car to win and all day long I tried really hard to save that fuel and made the fuel mileage the [team] was requesting, but couldn’t pay off for it in the end.”

Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) Started 11th, finished fifth, takes a 29-point drivers’ championship lead into the series finale at Sonoma Raceway: “It was a huge day for the team today, and feels like a win for us. I couldn’t see anything once I got off in the dirt at the start; it was just dust everywhere. Then I kept getting hit and hit and thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be good.’ Luckily, we were able to keep the PNC Bank car running, back up from the incident and continue. What a crazy day. The points [lead], whatever it is, is not a huge amount. But we’ll take it going into Sonoma.”

Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) Started third, finished eighth, second in the drivers’ championship with one race remaining: “It’s one of those days. We had a fast car, the NAPA Auto Parts Honda was really quick out front, and we were able to build a seven-second gap [over second]. Our tire strategy was going to plan and everything was good, until the yellow came on Lap 56. It [finishing eighth] hurts a lot. Hopefully it’s not something that costs us the championship. We just have to rebound and move on from it and know that it’s something that’s out of our control. Now it’s time to refocus and be ready to attack for Sonoma.”

Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s Honda Portland sweep and 10th IndyCar Series win of 2018: “It’s very gratifying to see all of our teams reach victory circle for a second consecutive year. Congratulations to Takuma and Bobby [Rahal] for a great win today in a very unpredictable race. It was an unusual race, which did not play out in a typical fashion, but we still swept the podium. Once again, this is a testament to the depth of our lineup and quality of our teams. It feels good to get our 10th win of the season. Now, let’s get that 11th win and the Drivers’ Championship at Sonoma in two weeks.”

Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Portland

Circuit:                             Portland International Raceway (1.9-mile road course) Portland, Oregon

2017 Winner:     N/A (first IndyCar Series race here since 2007)

Weather:           Sunny, mild, 76 degrees F

Top-10 Race Results:

Fn. St. Driver       Team Manufacturer Laps Notes
1. 20. Takuma Sato Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda 105   102.971 mph average
2. 5. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport Honda 105   +0.6084 seconds
3. 4. Sebastien Bourdais DCR with Vasser-Sullivan Honda 105
4. 17. Spencer Pigot Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet 105  
5. 11. Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing Honda 105  
6. 22. Simon Pagenaud Team Penske Chevrolet 105  
7. 25. Charlie Kimball Carlin Racing Chevrolet 105  
8. 3. Alexander Rossi Andretti Autosport Honda 105  
9. 16. Pietro Fittipaldi-R Dale Coyne Racing Honda 105    
10. 2. Josef Newgarden Team Penske Chevrolet 105  

Other Honda Results

12. 14. Carlos Munoz Schmidt Peterson Mtspts Honda 105   Running
16. 13. Jack Harvey-R Meyer Shank Racing Honda 105   Running
19. 6. Zach Veach-R Andretti Autosport Honda 104 Running
20. 18. Santino Ferrucci-R Dale Coyne Racing Honda 101   Running
22. 7. James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson Mtspts Honda 29     Did not finish – contact
23. 10. Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda    4 Did not finish – contact
24. 8. Ed Jones Chip Ganassi Racing Honda    0 Did not finish – crash
25. 9. Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda    0 Did not finish – crash