Takuma Sato admitted he was surprised his contact with Ed Carpenter — which triggered a late caution that altered the complexion of the race for a number of front-runners, including himself — had no effect on the performance of his car.
“It looked a big contact, but it was gentle — because if it’s big I would have spun out, too,” said Sato (pictured at right above with team boss Bobby Rahal), who wound up finishing third after the race finished under yellow due to the incident. “Obviously I was trying to avoid it, and then there was a little bit of scuff on my rear, almost like a tire ramping just before the rear axle. There was no effect in terms of the car performance, so it was fine.
“It was very fortunate between Ed and I, not getting into a massive accident. I thought I was going through it, but he basically snapped and came back towards me. We clipped it a little bit and had really gentle contact, which put him back straight. I had a little bit, I think, body damage, but the car was absolutely fine.”
The resulting caution gave Sato and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan crew even more of an incentive than most to pit, given his concerns about potential damage, but Sato — like leader James Hinchcliffe and Carpenter’s teammate Spencer Pigot — opted to stay out. That proved the right decision when the final laps ran out under yellow, but Sato reckoned even if the race had gone back to green, staying out would still have proven the better choice.
“At the end of the day, usually you just follow the leader,” noted the Japanese driver of the pit/no pit call — which caught out Josef Newgarden and Robert Wickens, who Pigot and Sato displaced in second and third places as a result. “But, closing a stage, sometimes it’s better to stay out. Statistically, when it’s only five or six laps left, I think there’s no point. There’s a high chance to not be able to move up enough with the new tire because I think we were only two thirds [into] the stint on the tires, and I think they were still in healthy condition.”