Sato Finishes Third in Sao Paulo
After running near the front of the IZOD IndyCar Series field throughout the early season – but with scant reward – Takuma Sato led the Honda-powered field Sunday with a third-place finish at the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Starting on the back row of the grid after missing qualifying Saturday due to an engine change, Sato also received a drive-through penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed limit during his first stop. As a result, he was still only in 20th place after 25 of the scheduled 75 race laps.
But excellent strategy by his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team and several opportunistic passes moved Sato up the order to eighth place on Lap 56, and fifth with just 10 laps to go. On the final Lap 71 restart, Sato got the jump on both third-place Dario Franchitti and fourth-running Helio Castroneves, passing them both with a single move that netted the Japanese driver his best finish of 2012.
For his part, Franchitti survived a hit from behind that spun the defending series champion out of second place on a Lap 26 restart. Falling to the rear of the field, Franchitti and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team also used a mix of strategy and speed to move into third place before the final restart, and a fifth-place finish at the checkers.
Teammate Scott Dixon ran near the front of the field throughout the first 50 laps, and then led eight laps before a late-race stop for fuel dropped him down the order. Along with several other Honda-powered drivers, he was caught up in a multi-car crash on Lap 67 that dropped him a lap off the lead pace and resulted in an unrepresentative 17th-place finish.
Charlie Kimball had his best result of 2012, and second top-ten result of the season, with an eighth-place run in his Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Honda-Dallara. Josef Newgarden had the consolation of running up front early and setting fastest race lap, before being one of several Honda-powered drivers caught up in collisions today. Simon Pagenaud, Mike Conway, Graham Rahal and James Jakes all had potential top-10 finishes spoiled by contact.
After four road races to start the 2012 season, the IZOD IndyCar Series now returns home to the U.S. for the season’s signature event: the Indianapolis 500.
Takuma Sato (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) started 25th, finished 3rd: “It’s great to finally finish on the podium, especially here in Brazil where we came so close to victory last year [Sato led 23 laps in the 2011 race, but a late pit stop dropped him to an eighth-place finish]. To be honest, the weekend did not start very well for us. We started at the back, and it was difficult to overtake in the early laps. But our team had great strategy, and overtaking became possible later in the race. On the last restart, I saw an opportunity to pass both Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti up the inside, and it worked out beautifully. It’s the first time we’ve seen the checkered flag this season, and we earned a podium result. We know we have the speed, now we need more results like today.”
Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) started 2nd finished 5th: “Our car was very fast today, Honda gave us great speed. I also have to thank the Holmatro [IndyCar] Safety team. Those guys were awesome today after I was hit and spun out. They were able to bump-start me almost immediately and it kept me in the hunt. Today’s finish was an improvement for us, but there was so much more that was left on the table. We still have some work to do, but we know where we need to improve now, so that’s encouraging.”
Charlie Kimball (#83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) started 15th, finished 8th: “It was a good day for us. There was a lot going on out there all day today, but I was having fun. The team gave me great stops today, and we had a good race strategy. With all the rain last night, the track was green at the start and it was hard to pass, but as more rubber was laid down it became possible to get around some guys. We had a fast car in clean air today, and that made for an enjoyable race.”
Roger Griffiths (Technical Director, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: "We very pleased for Takuma Sato and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. They produced a strong performance to both come from the back and score an excellent finish. For Honda, once again it was a case of missed opportunities. It seemed like every time I looked up, there was a multi-car crash involving several of our cars! I’m hoping we’ve gotten all of our bad luck for the year out of the way as we head to Indianapolis. Our speed was much improved this weekend, and the associates back at Honda Performance Development are working extremely hard right now on the other things we still need to improve.”