IndyCar Birmingham Report: Sato dominates proceedings at Barber

Takuma Sato converted a slightly unexpected pole position into a dominant win at Barber Motorsports Park, in a race that could’ve seen a one-two for his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.

Sato ran an almost faultless race to take his first victory of the season and in turn the first of the season for RLL. His win only looked in danger once or twice during the race, with the first scare from Sebastien Bourdais’ two-stop strategy and the second from an off-track excursion from Sato with only five laps to go. Even so, Sato took the win with a two-second gap over second-place Scott Dixon to elevate him to third in the championship.

The only disappointment of the weekend for RLL was that Graham Rahal couldn’t convert his front row start to a decent finish. Rahal had the pace to stay with Sato and hold second, but his throttle started to stick on Lap 3, meaning he had to have a long pit stop to correct it. Just after halfway through the race, his car completely died, ending any hopes of a recovery drive and forming half of the reason for the race’s only caution.

Credit: Matt Fraver/IndyCar

The other reason for the caution was an incident between Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton at pit entry that left the latter stranded in the wall, though he did manage to re-join the race, albeit two laps down.

Dixon seems to be making a habit of finishing second at Barber, with his second place this race taking his total up to six, all without a win at the track. He ran a fairly uneventful race, with the only major drama coming as a result of Bourdais’ two-stop strategy. After the last stops, Dixon had got back ahead of Bourdais, but the Frenchman stayed with him throughout the final stint, though he was never able to make a move on Dixon, meaning they finished second and third respectively.

Bourdais was the only driver to make the two-stop work, with many others bailing out and sticking to the safer three-stop. Spencer Pigot and Jack Harvey were the only other two to try the two-stop, but they finished seventeenth and thirteenth respectively, though it could’ve been a different story for Pigot had he not got a drive-thru penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Bourdais was helped by the one and only caution which ended up merging the two strategies, meaning he was not at too much of a disadvantage tyre-wise in the final stint.

Championship leader Josef Newgarden had a very impressive recovery drive, finishing fourth despite having started down in sixteenth. He made up a lot of places through the first two stints and made steady progress after the restart, giving Alexander Rossi a taste of his own medicine with two laps to go as the pair banged wheels and, for once, Rossi didn’t come out on top. Penske struggled all weekend with pace and tyre wear, with Newgarden’s result a surprise compared to Simon Pagenaud’s ninth-place and Will Power’s eleventh. It wasn’t just Penske struggling though, all the Chevrolet cars were off the pace with only two finishing in the top ten.

Credit: Matt Fraver/IndyCar

Rossi made light of what was otherwise quite a disappointing weekend for Andretti, finishing a respectable fifth after getting the better of James Hinchcliffe on the restart. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the next best Andretti, coming home eighth while both Zach Veach and Marco Andretti spent the day buried in the midfield, eventually finishing twelfth and fourteenth.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports scored one of the best team results since Toronto last year with Hinchcliffe finishing sixth and Marcus Ericsson one behind him in seventh. Hinchcliffe had been in a solid fourth-place for most of the race but both Newgarden and Rossi passed him on the restart, and from there he was unable to stick with their pace. Ericsson, however, spent the whole race passing cars and making some Rossi-esque moves to finish seventh having started way down the order in twentieth.

Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Having won the race last time out, Colton Herta was brought back down to reality with a thump. He’d had some engine issues throughout qualifying that his Harding team had hoped to be on top of by the race; the issues resurfaced early on and forced Herta to go behind the wall. The team managed to get him back out on track, but it was only for a test session as he was already 35 laps down by then, meaning he’s gone from hero to zero in the space of two races.

After an eventful race at Barber, IndyCar head to Long Beach next weekend for their first back-to-back of the season.

Full Race Results:

  1. Takuma Sato
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. Sebastien Bourdais
  4. Josef Newgarden
  5. Alexander Rossi
  6. James Hinchcliffe
  7. Marcus Ericsson (R)
  8. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  9. Simon Pagenaud
  10. Felix Rosenqvist (R)
  11. Will Power
  12. Zach Veach
  13. Jack Harvey
  14. Marco Andretti
  15. Santino Ferrucci (R)
  16. Patricio O’Ward (R)
  17. Spencer Pigot
  18. Tony Kanaan
  19. Ed Jones
  20. Matheus Leist
  21. Ben Hanley (R)
  22. Max Chilton

DNF – Graham Rahal (engine), Colton Herta (R) (engine)

Championship Top 5:

  1. Josef Newgarden
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. Takuma Sato
  4. Alexander Rossi
  5. Colton Herta (R)

Featured Image Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

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