Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato has spoken of his sadness after a crash in qualifying forced him to miss the season-opening race of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series; the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. Due to the one-day format in Texas, Sato’s mechanics were unable to repair his #30 Honda in time to compete in the race.
After several months of delay, the teams, drivers and fans of the NTT IndyCar Series were excited to get back to racing last Saturday for the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. However, for Takuma Sato, the anticipation would come to nought after a qualifying wreck prevented him from taking part in the race.
Sato, the pole-sitter for the 2019 race at Texas Motor Speedway, had a decent start to the day on Saturday. In practice, Sato would complete fifty-one laps and finish with the sixth-fastest speed on the board. However, in qualifying, Sato would be caught out by an issue that became evident to some during the practice session.
The high-line of the corners at Texas Motor Speedway was still coated in a traction compound used by the NASCAR Cup Series last November. In the time since, however, the traction compound had made the circuit, somewhat ironically, massively slippery.
Sato discovered the perils of the traction compound in the most unfortunate way possible. In qualifying, the drivers were given an out-lap and an additional warm-up lap to prepare for their two timed laps. At the start of Sato’s warm-up lap, he would take a slightly wider line than usual into turn one. This line placed him on the slippery traction compound, which duly sent him into a sudden and high-speed spin.
Takuma would hit the wall nose-first, with the rear of the car then slapping the wall shortly thereafter. The damage to his #30 Honda would be extensive, but thankfully, Sato would climb from the car unscathed.
“-it was a big moment,” Sato said after being released from the infield care centre as qualifying continued. “It was only the warm-up lap and I just lost the back end. Immediately, I turned it. Usually, it didn’t happen that way, so it caught me by a big surprise. I feel sorry for the boys, obviously who prepared everything. Hopefully, we can fix it in time for the race. It’s quite tight.”
Sato’s anxiousness over whether or not his car would be fixed was due to the one-day format for the Texas race. To minimise the amount of time spent at the track through fear of potential spreading of COVID-19, the Texas event was condensed into a single day, with practice, qualifying and the race all taking place within just nine hours. The perils of this, however, is that a crash at any point during the day would massively impact your chances for the day by taking away valuable learning time in practice as well as potentially ruling you out of the race should your car be damaged too much.
The latter point would prove to be the consequence for Sato. As the rest of the field lined up on the grid and set out on their formation laps, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing mechanics were still frantically trying to repair Sato’s #30 Honda and get it to pass a mandatory technical inspection. Ultimately, a few laps after the race got underway, the team would confirm that they would not be able to get the car into the race.
“I’m sorry to all the fans that I couldn’t race,” a disheartened Sato said afterwards. “The boys did all they could to repair the car after the crash in qualifying. It’s really hard to believe and understand what happened. It was before the actual timed lap; it was only the warm-up and, usually, you build up speed and feel the car. When I approached Turn 1, I immediately lost the rear end. Perhaps I was maybe a little outside to make a better feeling of it, but unfortunately the track today was extremely slippery, which I really didn’t know. Unfortunately, I crashed into the wall.
“In normal circumstances, I think the boys would be able to quickly repair the car, but since it was a compressed one-day event and not enough time before the race, they did absolutely everything they could up until the last minute, so I want to thank them. I have been waiting for eight months to race and have to wait another three weeks now and am extremely disappointed.“
It would prove to be a massively frustrating night for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. As one half of the team worked on Sato’s car in the run-up to the formation laps, the other half were trying to diagnose a sudden problem on Graham Rahal‘s #15 Honda. Rahal’s car would not start and needed to be electronically reprogrammed before he could get going. By the time the problem was fixed, he was multiple lap downs.
Graham would not recover from the set-back and would ultimately finish two laps down. A massive disappointment after Rahal, a former winner at Texas Motor Speedway, had qualified in seventh. Sato would express his sadness for his team-mate in post-race interviews, before vowing to “come back stronger” at the next race of the season at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit.
“I also feel bad for my teammate Graham [Rahal],” Sato said on Saturday. “He had an absolutely fantastic qualifying and he drove the race so hard, but it was unfortunate neither car scored points today. I’ve been pretty disappointed today, but I have to stay focused and come back stronger in three weeks’ time.”
The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series will continue in just under a month’s time with the second round of the season, the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit on Saturday, July 4.