IndyCar

Takuma Sato hopes Road America provides a favorable turnabout

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It is amazing what one race can do for a driver. At least, that is what Takuma Sato hopes will happen after his fourth-place run at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

After all, 2017’s Road America race proved to be a turning point in his season.

“We had a fast car,” Sato said after the race. “It’s a shame that we missed the podium, but we need to find a little more speed.”

It is the kind of thing said after pretty much any race, but this time his podium near-miss could be a precursor of better results on the horizon.

Coming on the heels of a seventh-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, this is Sato’s best back-to-back pairing all season. He had consecutive top-10s at Barber Motorsports Park and in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix, but those were an eighth and 10th respectively. Sato has one other top-five for the season, but his fifth at the Raceway at Belle Isle was bracketed by an accident in the Indy 500 and a 17th in the second Belle Isle race.

Last year’s turnabout was not favorable. Road America marked only the third time that he finished outside the top 15 and the juxtaposition of his 19th in 2017 to his fourth this year adds to the feeling of success this time around.

“We struggled at the beginning of the season and lost too much ground, but Graham (Rahal) and I are working close with the engineering side and shared a lot of stuff and picked up speed,” Sato said.

Through the first eight races of 2018 compared to 2017, Sato had an average finish of 14.5 versus 9.1. With his current back-to-back top-10s credited to 2018, the average shrinks to 12.7 versus 10.2. And if one mentally subtracts his Indy 500 crash, Sato’s 2018 average of 10.6 is virtually the same this year as last.

Last year, Sato was fourth in the points standings at this juncture. In 2018, he languishes in 13th.

Sato needs to guard against what happened in 2017 in the final stretch. His 19th-place finish at Road America was one of six times that he finished outside the top 15 in the closing eight races. Two of these (an accident at Gateway Motorsports Park and an engine failure at Sonoma Raceway) were DNFs.

The end to his season was made even more frustrating by the fact that he qualified 10th or better in all but one of the final eight races – including a pole at Pocono Raceway.

Based on his qualification results, Sato found the speed he was looking for in 2017.

Now, he needs some good fortune to go with it.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

ProMotocross.com
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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter