MADISON, IL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato went from zero to hero in less than a week on the NTT IndyCar Series circuit.
Sato won Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, one week after fellow IndyCar drivers, fan and media blamed Sato for a multi-car crash on lap one at Pocono Raceway.
Sato started fifth on the grid and on the first lap in turn 1 had contact with another car and fell to last place but never gave up and rallied to a 0.0399-second victory over owner/driver Ed Carpenter.
“A difficult start,” said Sato. “I was sandwiched, then go backwards.”
Sato called the victory the most satisfying win of his career, next to the 2017 Indianapolis 500 win.
“This win is so special,” said Sato. “Beside Indy 500, nothing like it. Last week, it was very difficult to judge. A lot of people judged from only TV, one angle. It looked like I turned into Alex, which wasn’t true. The team got logging system, onboard footage, that shows very clear evidence I wasn’t move. I hold my line, I drove straight.”
The RLL team stood behind the veteran driver in the week between Pocono and Gateway, going as far as issuing a statement of support after all of the backlash. Sato was glad his team had his back and he paid them back with a victory.
“It is just unbelievable support from the team,” said Sato. “I’m so happy. So proud to be a part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Some people say they never seen do that kind of statement.”
Carpenter rebounded from a less than stellar qualifying effort to needing a couple of hundred feet to win.
“Even just another straightaway, I maybe could have gotten Takuma,” said Carpenter, who started 17th. “We were really good on the long runs. We kept our heads down and never gave up.”
AJ Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan, who started 20th, rounded out the podium with a third-place finish.
“We knew we had a strong car,” said Kanaan. “We played the strategy right, we got a little bit of luck on our side – finally – and once we got to the front, we showed the that we belong there.”
Points-leader Josef Newgarden finished seventh but his closest pursuer, Alexander Rossi, finished 13th allowing fifth-place finisher Simon Pagenaud to leapfrog Rossi in the Championship standings. Newgarden leads Pagenaud by 38-points going into the next weekend’s Grand Prix of Portland.