The third round of NTT Indycar Series was run at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
The race was sponsored by Honda, so it was a pure luck that the Polesitter was a Honda driver – none other than Takuma Sato. It was his first Pole Position on a normal race track. He’s had Indycar Poles on ovals and street courses, but never on a permanent track.
Graham Rahal started on second place, making it a clear Rahal Letterman Lanigan front row in the qualifying, followed by Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais and Spencer Pigot respectively.
The championship leader Josef Newgarden started the race all the way from 16th position. Actually, Will Power was the best Team Penske driver in P7, while Simon Pagenaud was P14. Power is otherwise a qualifying specialist, so you know the team had a bad day when the Australian is so far down.
The started was slightly chaotic, and it took a bit of time before the green flag was given. A number of drivers had to brake hard since they weren’t expecting it.
Ed Jones did a huge jump start and got a drive-through penalty for it.
Alexander Rossi came up to fifth from eighth starting position. The American is always good at starts, and he has good faith in the tires, even though they’re perhaps not up to the ideal working temperature.
The first drivers chose to pit already on lap 9, where both Josef Newgarden and Max Chilton pitted. It set up a trend that Will Power, Colton Herta, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach all followed suit.
Herta had problems when his engine didn’t work properly and he fell back through the field.
The first pitstop didn’t go prefectly for Takuma Sato, where the mechanics found it difficult to remove the left rear tire from the car. He lost the big gap he had to the driver in P2, who currently was Scott Dixon, when another RLL driver Graham Rahal had problems with the throttle censor. The team had to find a data cable in order to reset the electronic. It costed him more than 20 seconds, before he was ready to drive again.
Simon Pagenaud and Ben Hanley had a contact, where Pagenaud dived very late on the British rookie driver. Luckily, neither car was damaged, but it’s never good for the car’s suspension and tracking to suffer such impact.
Will Power struggled with the car, where he first did a 360 degrees spin on the track, and a few corners later came in contact with Pagenaud. The team then chose to call him to the pits straight away to get new tires.
Patricio O’Ward started from 18th position, but he slowly but surely worked himself up through the field – amongst other things by overtaking Felix Rosenqvist from the outside in Turn 5.
Jack Harvey got a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane.
Herta’s problems continued, with what the team had found out to be a problem to pump the fuel to the engine. The mechanics worked hard to repair the car in the pits, so that he could drive again.
Marcus Ericsson was on the way up, currently being in seventh place, after starting the race from P20.
Sebastien Bourdais was on a two-stop strategy, while the rest of the field was on three-stops. It put him to second place as the majority of the competitors had already pitted for second time.
It wasn’t until lap 58 that we saw the first Safety Car of the day. Graham Rahal stalled on the track, and at the same time Max Chilton drove off in the last corner, when he and Tony Kanaan chose to pit at the same time. It sent Chilton out on the grass and into the tire wall.
Panic activities spread out in the pits, since the whole field was given a chance to pit before it got closed. It also caused exciting moments, where cars swerved in and out between each other as some people drove into and left their pitboxes.
The SC lasted for seven laps before the race got restarted.
There wasn’t much change out in front, where Takuma Sato led the race ahead of Scott Dixon, who came out right in front of Sebastien Bourdais, while Hinchcliffe and Rossi held on to their fourth and fifth positions.
Spencer Pigot was sent to the back of the field due to an unsafe release under his last pitstop.
Newgarden was on progress and was up to P5 after a good strategy from the team, with a car that wasn’t nearly as good with the tires as a lot of the others.
Sato quickly created a two-second gap, while Dixon and Bourdais had a close battle for second place. Both drivers still had a lot of Push-2-Pass left, so when Bourdais used it to attack, Dixon could defend himself. Bourdais, however, had more left, so it could be a deciding factor towards the end of the race.
There was a bit of panic in Sato’s camp with five laps left when he had a run off through the grass, but he made it back to the track before Dixon could come past.
Newgarden and Rossi were involved in an incident in Turn 5, where Newgarden dived very late on Rossi, and there was a contact between the two. Newgarden drove past and both could continue.
Takuma Sato won the race, ahead of Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson.
Newgarden still leads the championship, followed by Dixon, while the victory today puts Sato in third place.
The next race will be run in a week time on the streets of Long Beach, California.