Takuma Sato dominates Barber Motorsports Park on way to IndyCar win

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Takuma Sato won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama for his fourth career series victory after leading the field to green from the pole and dominating the race.

Even with a comfortable lead, he was giving it his all during the final laps. With less than five laps remaining, Sato ran off course and knocked a diffuser from the bottom of his Honda, but if anything, it made him a little faster. He had an off course excursion in that same turn complex (Turn 8/9) during Friday’s practice.

Over the course of those last five laps, Sato extended his lead from a little under two seconds to a 2.3874-second advantage over Scott Dixon, who was under heavy pressure from Sebastien Bourdais.

“This is because of the team,” Sato said at the conclusion of the race on NBCSN. “They made a fantastic effort. That car was superb – red tire, black tire, I didn’t have to worry about it.”

Sato credited his teammate for helping him find the setup that allowed him to dominate.

“This morning warmup helped a lot. Thank you very much to Graham Rahal, my teammate. We (found) a problem and he found a very good setup and I installed it.”

Sato’s dominant weekend vaulted him 10 position to third in the standings from 13th entering the race.

For Dixon – who remains winless at Barber – it was his sixth second-place finish at the track.

Dixon finished second to Josef Newgarden in 2017, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2013, Will Power in 2011 and 2012, and Helio Castroneves in 2010.

“It was really tough,” Dixon said. “We had a lot of [tire degradation]. We started off and we could push really hard and be really quick and close the gap – even on some of those crossovers in the pits, we were able to hone in on Graham and Sato early on in the race.

“But the last 10 laps were really miserable. On that last run, I tried to hold a steady gap to Taku.”

Dixon admitted to being a little annoyed with all of his second-place finishes before the race, but given how this protected his position in the standings, he was anything but annoyed this week. Dixon leap frogged Colton Herta to land second in the points.

“Catching (Dixon) was no problem,” Bourdais said. “It was the push to pass in a lap and I was in his rear wing. The problem was both times I did, as soon as I got behind him, it started to slip and slide. The tires are not that fresh anymore at that point.”

Coming off back-to-back wins and three victories in the last four Barber races, Josef Newgarden finished fourth. Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five.

The only caution of the day didn’t wave until Lap 58, but to make up for lost time, it was for multiple issues. Max Chilton crashed at pit entry when he ran up on a slowing Tony Kanaan – who made a late entry to pit lane because Rahal stalled on track in Turn 8.

Losing power on track put a period to a long and frustrating day for the outside pole sitter.

Rahal had a throttle issue on Lap 19 before losing power for good on Lap 58.

“About Lap 3, the throttle began to stick,” Rahal said on NBCSN. “I tried to make it hang on; we did maybe 15 laps that way. Finally, it was going to put me in a gravel trap or something. It was hanging on way to much. And then the car died. Completely shut off. We had this in qualifying, luckily it was on my cool down lap from the lap I went P2. These two have to be interconnected.”

Colton Herta retained the lead in the Rookie of the Year standings despite a disappointing day.

He went from first in the most recent race to last (24th) at Barber with a fuel pickup problem on Lap 33 after experiencing an engine issue early in the race.

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WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Marcus Ericsson was the highest finishing rookie of the race in seventh. … Felix Rosenqvist finished 10th to score his second top-10 of the season. … James Hinchcliffe rebounded from a 16th-place finish at Circuit of the Americas to finish sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ed Jones got off to a strong start – too strong as it turned out. When the green flag waved over a slow start, he jumped the field advancing from 21st to fourth before Turn 1 Jones was penalized with a drive through penalty and never recovered. He finished 19th. … Max Chilton ran out of room on the pit road entry and nosed into the Turn 16 wall. He lost two laps while they pulled him back on track to finish 22nd.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Oh my gosh, what a delightful day. What a delightful day yesterday. I’m sorry about Graham. Something went to sleep on him, but Takuma Sato – fantastic afternoon.” – David Letterman, team owner of Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan Racing.

WHAT’S NEXT: IndyCar heads to Long Beach, Calif. for next Sunday’s Grand Prix of Long Beach on NBCSN (coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET).

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Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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