Sato shines again, but comes up short in Milwaukee

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A.J. Foyt wasn’t at the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Milwaukee IndyFest because of leg pain, per the Associated Press. So naturally, his driver Takuma Sato almost repeated his efforts in Long Beach where he won with “Super Tex” also in absentia.

The joke being made on Twitter during the race was asking who would tell A.J. to stay home for good, if in fact Sato brought home the bacon.

Sato started only 15th in the 24-car field but through a methodical march on the Milwaukee Mile, climbed into the top 10, then benefited as of a result of the third full course caution on lap 98.

He was one of nine cars to pit during the first caution on lap 22 for four tires and fuel, and like Helio Castroneves, looped around to the front of the field once the leaders made their sequence of stops on that third caution.

From there, though, Sato’s No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda was a rocketship. He led three times for a race-high 109 laps and really only lost his edge when he was stuck in traffic, particularly behind Ed Carpenter.

That’s ironic given the two were busy exchanging pleasantries earlier this week at a pre-race advance at the Miller Time Pub where the two and James Hinchcliffe served as celebrity bartenders, and the driver tips went to charity.

The killer, though, other than a huge moment through Turn 4, was the fourth caution. Sato pitted for fresh Firestones and fuel on lap 200, a lap after Ryan Hunter-Reay passed him for the lead. The yellow 12 laps later doomed his chances, as he was stuck a lap down and the leaders pitted without losing their track position.

We leave it to Sato to take it from here, after a frustrating seventh-place finish (his first top-10 since his runner-up finish at Brazil). He did move up to fourth in points after entering tied for fifth, now 76 points back of Helio Castroneves, but that’s hardly consolation.

“What an eventful and exciting race it was,” he said. “We slowly started to move up through the field and on every pit stop we adjusted on the car and then the car started working really well.

“By mid-race the ABC Supply car was beautiful and I was so enjoying driving it. The car was so strong in clean air and very strong in traffic as well. We were really happy with the whole balance of the car in the middle stint, but then unfortunately there was such a sudden loss of the rear grip towards the end of the race and I got high and lost track position.

“We thought there was an issue so we decided to pit as soon as our pit window opened and then try to charge back with fresh tires. We were confident we could do it. But then the yellow came out and that was very bad timing for us because it put us behind those who hadn’t pitted yet.

“They were able to pit and get ahead of us which is why we lined up in seventh. Then they had fresher tires too so it was really tough to pass them back. The boys did a great job with the pit stops all day long and I thought we could have brought a smile to A.J. and we nearly did. It was still a great race, but it was so disappointing in the end. Really a shame.”

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne