MADISON, Ill. – After taking the bulk of the blame for a violent crash last week at Pocono Raceway, Takuma Sato needed something positive to happen.
He got that and much more on Saturday night by winning the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway in a thrilling photo finish over Ed Carpenter.
“The team made this happen,” Sato said as he emerged from his No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The last couple days, it was tough, but we kept going.”
Sato found himself at the front of the field thanks to a timely caution period on lap 192 when Sebastian Bourdais clipped the turn four wall and spun down the frontstretch shortly after making a pit stop.
The incident happened in the midst of green flag pit stops and Sato, Tony Kanaan and Carpenter were the only drivers who hadn’t yet pitted and found themselves at the front of the field. Josef Newgarden, who had pitted and made his way back onto the tail of the lead lap, was the last car on the lead lap at the time of the caution.
With the caution period serving as protection, Sato, Carpenter and Kanaan all pitted for fuel and tires. Newgarden also pitted for fuel to make sure he could finish the race without another pit stop. The leaders pitting also allowed those who were trapped a lap down – including race-long leader Santino Ferrucci – to get back on the lead lap.
When the race resumed with 40 laps left Sato shot out into the lead as Kanaan ran second ahead of Carpenter and Newgarden. Newgarden soon found himself in a battle with Ferrucci for fourth, allowing Kanaan and Carpenter to pull clear of Newgarden.
Kanaan and Carpenter were able to stay within a second of Sato throughout the final run, yet it appeared neither were able to close the gap on the leader. With five laps left that changed as Carpenter dispatched Kanaan out of turn four and quickly gapped him as he began his pursuit of Sato.
With two laps left Carpenter had caught Sato and the race was on for the lead. Carpenter closed in on Sato over the final two laps and took his shot at the exit of turn four on the final lap. Carpenter got to Sato’s outside, but Sato had just enough momentum to beat Carpenter to the finish line by .0399 seconds.
The victory is Sato’s second this season and couldn’t have come at a better time for the Japanese driver, who took most of the blame for a violent five-car crash last week at Pocono Raceway on the opening lap of the ABC Supply 500.
“Obviously today was a little lucky in terms of strategy, but we were fast,” Sato said. “We made it happen today. Really a big thank you to the team. Incredible team.”
Carpenter said he only needed a few more feet to beat Sato to the checkered flag.
“Just needed a little more time to get Takuma,” said Carpenter, who was making his final start of the season for his own Ed Carpenter Racing team. “Even if the straightaway was a little further down I think we would have been good. It’s a good way for me to finish my driving season.”
Kanaan finished third, his first podium finish for AJ Foyt Racing and first since 2017.
Ferrucci finished fourth after nearly wiping out Newgarden in the final corner. Ferrucci ran up the track after a failed attempt to pass Kanaan, then drove his car back down into the racing line, forcing Newgarden to take evasive action and spin coming out of the fourth turn.
Newgarden ended up crossing the line in seventh behind Ferrucci, Simon Pagenaud and Conor Daly. Newgarden now holds a 38-point lead in the NTT IndyCar Series standings over Pagenaud with two races left on the schedule.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Colton Herta and Marco Andretti completed the top-10.