IndyCar: Sato recovers from pre-race engine change to P4 in Sonoma

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The luck may finally be turning for Takuma Sato and the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda team, as they rebounded post-qualifying in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to a season-best fourth place finish.

Sato qualified 20th, and if that wasn’t bad enough news, the A.J. Foyt Enterprises team had to perform a pre-race engine change in a tighter time period than normal.

With this being a west coast race, the usual 3 to 6 p.m. ET TV window was bumped back to 4 to 7 p.m. ET, but that meant the schedule actually moved forward with race time set from 1 to 4 p.m. PT/local time. With the warm-up from 10 to 10:30, that barely left the No. 14 team enough time to change engines and make pre-grid in their grid position.

Once the race got going Sato was the victim of circumstances, caught up in the Lap 1, Turn 2 melee where Sebastien Bourdais contacted Ryan Briscoe. Sato needed to pit early, but that changed the game.

From there, he excelled on an off-sequence strategy, mirroring prior race leader Mike Conway. He ran in the top five most of the second half of the race. The Japanese driver got his fuel to last to the finish too, and his persistence was rewarded with P4.

Considering the poor run of luck – mostly mechanical issues – that plagued the middle of his season, it was a welcome and timely result.

“Very happy. It was a great effort by the whole ABC Supply team,” Sato said. “We had another unlucky morning–after the warm up we had to change the engine. The guys did a tremendous job to change it in such a short time and give me a competitive car.

“Unfortunately, we caught debris in the first accident and we had to change the nose and tires. We stayed on the lead lap and kept topping off fuel to make a slightly different sequence of pit stops from everyone else.

“Larry and the engineers made good calls on strategy and it worked out really well. The crew did a great job on the stops.

“Unfortunately on the last stop, we were leaving when Marco was coming in [pitted in box ahead of Sato] and I had to stop to avoid hitting him. Nevertheless I overtook a few cars on the track, our strategy worked and the Honda engine did a great job in the end. Everyone is very happy.”

Sato looks for his third top-five of the season (fifth in Toronto race two was his first) to close out the season at Auto Club Speedway next weekend.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.