Sato seeks momentum rebound in Milwaukee

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It was about as good a start to a new relationship as was possible. Takuma Sato’s first four races with A.J. Foyt Racing yielded his first career win (Long Beach) and the team’s first since 2002, a second podium at Brazil albeit one where he lost the lead in the last turn, two Firestone Fast Six appearances and the points lead.

Then the month of May happened, and Sato’s fortunes in the IZOD IndyCar Series have changed.

A nondescript Indianapolis 500 saw Sato unable to repeat the heroics of a year ago, when his famous passing attempt for the win on Dario Franchitti ended against the Turn 1 wall. He finished an unlucky 13th, at least managing to recover from a spin early in the race. Then he was taken out in back-to-back races in Detroit, and fought his car to 11th at Texas.

The poor string of results has dropped Sato to a tie for fifth in the points standings, now 65 behind championship leader Helio Castroneves. It has not, however, dampened his confidence.

“We all wish we could have had a better last few races, but unfortunately we had some unlucky situations where we couldn’t achieve them,” Sato said at a lunch Wednesday ahead of this week’s Milwaukee IndyFest. “We do have a good package and need to be able to catch up. Hopefully we can now achieve the second win.”

It’s a big weekend for Sato from three standpoints at the tricky Milwaukee Mile. He needs a result, the team’s setup at this track has been off slightly in years past (Paul Tracy hung on for dear life in 2009), and it’s the home race for Foyt’s primary sponsor ABC Supply Co. Some 900 guests of the company are expected on race day.

Sato relates the challenge of driving the track first, as it’s so unique on the calendar.

“It’s an oval, but it’s pretty much a high speed road course and with no banking support!” he said. “Well some, but almost zero. We’re not going very fast here because of the road course package. For the drivers, it’s a great challenge. You actually have to drive a lot, wall-to-wall. You feel the cars sliding, and sometimes need the brakes. It’s a great challenge.”

The driving is a challenge, but probably wasn’t as much of a challenge as handling drink orders on Wednesday night at the Miller Time Pub in downtown Milwaukee. Along with James Hinchcliffe, Ed Carpenter and NBC Sports Network’s Will Buxton, Sato served as a celebrity bartender for the assembled crowd. Tips were donations to Racing for Kids and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)