Sato and team co-owner Bobby Rahal celebrate Sunday's win. Photo: IndyCar

In any language, Sato’s Portland win is big for him, his team — and likely his future

Leave a comment

Takuma Sato could have used any word – be it in American or Japanese – to help propel him through the final laps of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

But he chose a word from his native tongue that he kept repeating to himself as he drove through the closing laps around Portland International Raceway.

That word was “Ganbare,” which in Japanese means both “good luck” and “hang in there.”

Even with Ryan Hunter-Reay knocking on Sato’s back door, particularly on the final two laps, good luck was on Sato’s side as he indeed hung in there to earn his third career IndyCar win.

Sato wasn’t even on the radar to win Sunday’s race. He qualified 20th out of 25 entrants, but that didn’t deter him.

Sato felt he had as good a chance as anyone to get a top 10, maybe even a top 5.

And that’s exactly what happened for the only Japanese driver to ever win the Indianapolis 500 (2017).

“It’s a fantastic weekend for all of us,” Sato said after the race. “Who won, I don’t care. Obviously I wanted to win. I won a street course (2013 Long Beach), won a superspeedway (Indy 500), very close to (winning on a) short oval, but my first career win on a road course means a lot. Obviously it’s important.

“Number of wins, I always wanted to have more. I think three wins from Long Beach, Indy 500, such a history in Portland in this fashion, I’m really, really happy today.”

Sato was the star for RLL Sunday as teammate Graham Rahal was collected in a big first lap crash, came back on the track briefly before calling it a day and finishing 23rd out of 25 entrants.

Sato picked up the torch for Team RLL and ran with it – well, actually, drove with it – through the final 25 laps of the 105-lap event in IndyCar’s return to Portland after an 11-year absence.

Granted, Sato’s win Sunday was nowhere near as big as his triumph at Indy last year. But to be able to travel to Portland for the first time, to meet and see a number of Japanese race fans and then become front page news once again in his homeland meant the world to Sato.

“It means a lot,” Sato said. “Firstly, thank everyone for all the support for IndyCar, to come back to Portland. I was very excited.

“I knew nothing about Portland. Obviously, I knew the history (of PIR), such an important place for North American racing. The fans are so educated. Generation by generation, so much a great place.”

Portland has a large Asian community, as well as Asian racing fans from Seattle-Tacoma, and northern California. It’s also an easy flight from his native Japan for fans who wanted to watch him race.

“Here is a very easy (for fans both from the west coast as well as Japan to travel to),” Sato said. “All the West Coast is very easy for Japan to come for the travel.

“We have a very enthusiastic fans from Japan. Also, the Portland community here is a great Asian community, including Japanese, a lot of business, too. We can hear a lot of Japanese cheering on the parade lap. That was great.

“Winning in front of such an enthusiastic crowd in Portland was something I expected, but this was more than expected. I think the people genuinely here are so enthusiastic (and) very happy that IndyCar came back here.”

Given that Portland was the second-to-last race on the schedule, Sunday’s win also potentially helped Sato leave town perhaps feeling a bit more secure about his future, as well.

Even with his win in the Indy 500, Sato surprisingly left Andretti Autosport after last season to rejoin RLL – for which he raced in 2012 – for a one-year deal for 2018 and with an option for 2019.

But options are never guaranteed until they’re picked up – that is, if they’re picked up.

So now, as this season is close to its end, it would be natural to wonder if Sato will return to RLL in 2019.

He even said so after Sunday’s race.

“The future is at the moment uncertain,” he said. “Hopefully this is a boosting to the talk to (return) next year.

“But most important (is) my passion and (I) wanted to win for the team, That’s really come all together. It’s very helping for the situation.”

Indeed it is. A team spokesperson told MotorSportsTalk a few hours after the race that, “We are in the process of extending (Sato’s) contract.”

That’s a good reward for a good job done Sunday.

Or more precisely, it was a day that ended in good luck for Sato because he hung in there all the way to take the checkered flag.

Yep, Sato couldn’t have said it better: “Ganbare!”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Dakar Stage 8 Highlights: Ricky Brabec blows engine, retires

1 Comment

The motorcycle class of the Dakar Rally has been a seesaw affair through seven stages, but Ricky Brabec seemed poised to win the class for the USA. Until he blew an engine in Stage 8 that is – and gave up a more-than seven second lead. He was the second rider to retire after starting the stage as the leader. Joan Barreda retired in Stage 3.

Brabec was looking to become the first American rider to win in 27 years, but his fate was eerily similar to last year. Three days from the end of the stage, he retired about 50 kilometers into the stage, which is precisely when and where he retired in 2018.

With Brabec’s trouble, Toby Price leapfrogged from third to second in class despite riding with a metal pin in his wrist. In the world’s most grueling endurance event, it has never been more obvious that it isn’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to run a consistent rally. With a 46 minute advantage over Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, all he needs to do is stay error free for the final two stages to win his third Dakar.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Sebastien Loeb scored his fifth stage win of the Rally by seven minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah, but problems in Stage 3 have kept him from being competitive for the overall lead. … Jakub Przygonski earned his third podium of the Rally. All of these have been third-place finishes.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 46:29 over Roma and 46:45 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Ricky Brabec’s blown engine opened up the class once more. … Matthias Walkner narrowly edged Pablo Quintanilla by 45 seconds. … But it was Toby Price’s third-place finish that helped elevate him to the class lead. … Sam Sunderland was supposed to blaze the path for the riders, but a malfunctioning navigation system kept him from rolling off first. Blazing the trail is a disadvantage and officials adjudged him to have tampered with his system to avoid that fate. Sunderland was penalized an hour to finish 35th on the stage. He dropped to ninth in class.

Class Leaders: Price inherited the lead over Quintanilla by 1:03 and 6:35 over Walkner

In side by sides, Francisco Lopez Contardo scored the victory over Cristian Baumgart by 4:47. … Gerard Farres Guell rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Contardo holds an advantage 0f 54:10 over Rodrigo Piazolli and one hour, 08:09 over Guell

In quads, there was no surprise in Nicolas Cavigliasso winning his seventh stage of the season. … He padded his overall advantage over Gustavo Gallego by more than nine minutes. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished third.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 24:52 over Ferioli and one hour, 44:04 over Gallego

In trucks, Dmitry Sotnikov won the stage to take over the class lead. He beat Ton Van Genugten by 22:01. … Siarhei Viazovich rounded out the top three. … Eduard Nikolaev lost the class lead by finishing eighth – nearly one hour behind Sotnikov.

Class Leaders: Sotnikov holds an advantage of 26:49 over and one hour, 7:43 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [7] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

For more watch the daily highlight show on NBCSN. Click here for the complete schedule.

Or check out the streaming show at 6:30-7 p.m. by clicking this link.