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.