The trouble with old adages is that they contradict each other- that or they are just flat wrong. Consider “Nice guys finish last” or “Slow and steady wins the race”. How about “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you…” Really?
On September 2nd Japanese driver Takuma Sato won the resurrected Grand Prix of Portland and he accomplished that by driving “fast and steady”. He also attributed the victory to a perfect set up, great teamwork, a successful fuel strategy and luck. In other words, he had a perfect day…that’s what it takes to win in Indycar anymore. Floridian Ryan Hunter-Reay’s team miscalculated on their fuel usage and it likely cost them the victory. Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais’s team overcame what seemed like insurmountable adversity to place third.
Twenty five entries qualified within the same second, each averaging over 121 mph on the twelve turn course. Roger Penske’s entries were fastest and captured the front row. Andretti Autosport pilots came next with Championship contender Alexander Rossi and Hunter-Reay split by Bourdais. 2017 Indy 500 winner Sato advanced from the twentieth berth.
There was a stack up on the first lap that eliminated three cars but resulted in no injuries. Seventh starting James Hinchcliffe initiated the accident which gathered up point leader Scott Dixon in the melee. Amazingly Dixon never lost power and was able to drive away from the incident. Pole sitter Will Power faltered immediately and was never a factor in the race. Instead defending series Champion Josef Newgarden of Tennessee carried the banner for Penske and was challenged from the drop of the green flag by the Californian Rossi.
Throughout the contest Newgarden, Rossi and Hunter-Reay were the dominate cars with each taking turns at the point. Meanwhile astute railbirds were keeping an eye on entrants like Sato, Spencer Pigot (also from Florida) and Dixon whom were forging their way through the field. And there was the snake-bitten Bourdais whom had had more than his share of drama previous to the initial start. The four time series Champion (and winner of the last Portland race in 2007) set the fastest lap in Saturday’s final practice session then promptly slid off course, severely damaging his racecar. Owner Dale Coyne quickly rallied his troops and assigned three teams of technicians the task of preparing a backup car for their number one driver. Mission accomplished, Bourdais took the untested mount and stuck it in the fourth starting slot. Though he avoided the first lap dust up on Sunday, incidental contact with another car did crumple the nose of his pink and white racer. He was forced to make a pit stop for a replacement nose and rejoined the race at the rear.
The race proceeded without another major incident and one after another driver made scheduled stops for fuel and fresh rubber. When rookie driver Santino Farrucci (Woodbury, Connecticut) ran out of ethanol and stopped on the course, a local yellow was thrown and both Rossi’s and Newgarden’s crew chiefs decided to bring their drivers in.
Hunter-Reay’s team left him out, determining that he had enough fuel to finish the race if he would only conserve. This late race turn of events allowed a group of contestants (some of which had already made their last stops) to close up on the leaders for the final sprint to the finish.
Englishman Max Chilton found himself in the lead for the restart but his final stop still lie ahead. That was not the case for Takuma Sato however, who had made his pit stops on schedule and had steadily been advancing his position all afternoon.
With three laps to go, Hunter-Reay was radioed that he no longer had to conserve and he responded by closing right up on the leader’s tail. But it was too little too late, it was Sato’s day and he flashed across the finish line first. Ironman Bourdais brought his cobbled together back up racer home third. Pigot (who had started seventeenth and was on nobody’s radar) placed fourth. And the point’s leader, the guy that drove away from the first lap pileup and rejoined the race in last, had motored through the field to finish fifth. One race remains on the schedule.
On the victory podium, the diminutive Sato beamed, making no effort to contain his enthusiasm. Fast and steady had won this race. And on this day, a nice guy had finished first.