Takuma Sato Victorious In Grand Prix Of Portland; Captures His First Win Of 2018

by September 5, 2018 0 comments

The Verizon IndyCar Series returned to the Portland International Raceway for the first time in 11 seasons on Sunday afternoon for a compelling and unpredictable race on the 1.9-mile road course.

The Grand Prix of Portland was won by 2017 Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato for his third series win. This was Sato’s first victory on a permanent road course and the first victory of the season for his Rahal Letterman Laningan Honda team. This is the first road/street course win from a driver starting outside of the top-20 since the 2017 St. Petersburg Grand Prix won by Sebastien Bourdais.

“This is big,” Sato said. “Fantastic weekend. Obviously, with the couple of hard, physical weekends, especially at St. Louis, we did save fuel and it didn’t work, but you have to keep on going and this time I think the fuel strategy worked really well. Most importantly, the No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic car had pace so I could commit. Looking at the fans here in Portland, so enthusiastic, I think this is one of the most beautiful days in my life again.”

The top-10 after Sato were Ryan Hunter-Reay, Bourdais who needed to get his car rebuilt after a massive shunt in practice, Spencer Pigot, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Alexander Rossi, a career-best from Pietro Fittipaldi and Josef Newgarden.

The race began in dramatic fashion as a five-car incident triggered by Zach Veach and James Hinchcliffe making contact, caused the latter to spin in front of traffic collecting Ed Jones, Marco Andretti who flipped through the air, Graham Rahal and points leader Scott Dixon. Through some miraculous driving through the dust, Dixon received no damage and soldiered on to finish fifth.

“It was a huge day for the team, and (it) feels like a win for us,” Dixon said. “I couldn’t see anything once I got off in the dirt. There was just dust everywhere. Then I kept getting hit and hit (by flying debris) and I thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be good.’ Luckily, we were able to keep the PNC Bank car running, back up from the incident and continue. What a crazy day.”

On the ensuing restart, pole winner for the 54th time, Will Power, lost drive and gears, which handed the lead to Dixon’s biggest title threat, Rossi, who led 32 laps but got shuffled back into the pack on alternate pit strategy. The ex-Formula One ace surged through the field to finish eighth, just three positions behind rival Dixon who miraculously recovered to fifth place by days end.

It’s one of those days; we had a fast car,” Rossi said. “Our tire strategy was going to plan and everything was good until the yellow came on Lap 56. It hurts a lot and hopefully it’s not something that costs us the championship. We just have to rebound and move on from it and know that it’s something that’s out of our control. Now it’s time to refocus and be ready to attack (at) Sonoma.”

The championship battle will go down to the final race at Sonoma with Dixon and Rossi split by 29 points. The finale is a double points race. No other drivers are mathematically in play for the championship making it a straight fight. This is the first finale since 2007 that a Team Penske driver will not be a title combatant.

Portland was also the final race for Mazda as title sponsor of the Mazda Road to Indy. The champions of the Cooper Tire Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF 2000 all receive scholarship money to advance to the next series. Mexican Patricio O’Ward swept the weekend and the championship in Indy Lights, Rinus Veekay won the Pro Mazda title, and Kyle Kirkwood was victorious in USF 2000 and tied J.R. Hildebrand’s record of 12 victories in a season.

The INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma airs live at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 16. Live coverage will broadcast on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Photo Credit: Stephen King/Verizon IndyCar Series

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