Takuma Sato has said that his victory in Saturday night’s 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park was made all the more “special” after having to deal with the fallout from the opening lap wreck at Pocono Raceway the weekend before. Sato attracted heaps of criticism from fellow drivers and also fans due to his involvement in the wreck at Pocono, but Takuma said after his Gateway win that the “support” he had received from other fans was fantastic.
Sato entered the weekend at Gateway after having endured several days of criticism on social media after his part in the lap one wreck at Pocono that saw himself eliminated along with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist and James Hinchcliffe. Different videos of the accident had been circulated online, with many different people sharing many different opinions on who had been to blame.
Throughout all of the debate, Sato’s crew at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing remained on his side and defended him, stating that the telemetry and angle of his steering wheel during the wreck cleared him of any wrongdoing. More importantly, both Takuma and the team were far more interested in bouncing back from what had been a disappointing result in Pocono to try and take a strong result at Gateway.
Sato put in a decent effort in Friday afternoon’s qualifying session to put his #30 Honda in fifth-place on the grid. However, a moment in the opening stages of the race whilst battling for position, once again, with Hunter-Reay, saw Sato lose ground. Furthermore, Sato would fall way back in the opening stages of the race, falling from fifth place to last before making an early pit-stop.
Despite being far down the pecking order, Sato’s early pit-stop actually proved to be somewhat of a godsend. As a result of his early stop, he was a few laps off sequence with the pit strategy of the majority of the field; including the race leaders. This meant that he was able to go a few laps longer than everybody else before needing to pit for tyres and fuel. Those crucial few laps that he was able to stay out on track would pay off towards the end of the race.
As the race approached it’s final moments, Sebastien Bourdais would hit the wall and bring out a caution right at the conclusion of a green flag pit-stop sequence. At the time of the caution, only Sato, Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter had not made a pit-stop and were subsequently in the lead of the race. With the rest of the field, minus Josef Newgarden, trapped one lap down after having made their stops, Sato, Kanaan, Carpenter and Newgarden were all able to pit during the yellow flag for tyres and fuel without losing their positions; with the rest of the field having to take the wave-around and give up a pit-stop opportunity so that they could get their laps back.
The caution set up a forty lap sprint to the chequered flag, with Sato now having to hold off Kanaan, Carpenter and the rest of the pack to try and take the victory. Takuma would fly away at the drop of the green flag, building an almost two-second lead very quickly. However, as the race came into its final ten laps, Sato’s pace began to fade and he slowly started to fall back towards Kanaan and Carpenter.
Kanaan didn’t look to quite have the pace to pass Sato for the lead, but Carpenter did. Ed would blast his way by Kanaan to take over second place and soon found himself right on the gearbox of Sato for the lead of the race heading into the final two laps. By the time the pair started the final lap, Carpenter was just one-tenth of a second behind.
Carpenter was not able to get up the inside of Sato on corner entry on the final lap, but he did manage to get a superb exit off of the final corner to make it a drag race to the finish line between himself and Sato. Carpenter managed to get within a car length of Takuma, but he wasn’t quite close enough to snatch away the victory at the last moment. Ultimately, Sato would take the victory by a margin of just 0.0399 of a second.
The victory would be Sato’s second of the 2019 season, having taken a win at the start of the year back at Barber Motorsports Park. Takuma was visibly ecstatic at having taken the victory, which would be the fifth of his IndyCar career and his third on an oval.
After climbing from his #30 Honda, Sato would give thanks to the fans that had supported him throughout the year so far and also noted that the “difficult circumstances” of Pocono had made the win at Gateway even better.
“This year the cheering, [the fans] screaming my name so much. I just can’t find the words to thank you for all the support,” Sato said on Saturday night, “It was special, particularly like you said, after the difficult circumstances, to come here, qualify strong, which I’m really proud of the team.
“[I had] A difficult start. I was sandwiched, then go backwards. It was difficult to get away the first stint. Head down, did our job, believe in ourselves, take the moment for the chance to come back. We came back. I think this is the whole effort of the team. They are completely behind me. So happy to bring the car to the win for them. I’m very, very happy.”
Sato was also asked whether the victory was the best of his career so far. Whilst Takuma admitted that it didn’t quite top his win at the 2017 Indianapolis 500, the win at Gateway had given him an “unbelievable boost” and had been “a great story” following on from Pocono.
“Winning [from] pole at Barber was very significant – just the domination of the weekend is always great credit for the team and satisfaction,” Sato said of his win earlier in the year in Alabama, “But this win [at Gateway] is so special – beside Indy 500, obviously nothing like [that]. This is just so emotional. Gave me an unbelievable boost. [It’s] a great story.”
Sato will now look to take his momentum from winning Gateway into the penultimate race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, that takes place this weekend. Takuma will return to Portland International Raceway this weekend as the defending race winner of the Grand Prix of Portland having won the race twelve months ago.
The 2019 Grand Prix of Portland will take place on Sunday, September 1.