Second-place Scott Dixon, the pup of the group, looked around at winner Takuma Sato and third-place Sebastian Bourdais and said: “It’s the geriatric podium.”
Two weeks after Colton Herta became the youngest winner in IndyCar history at age 18, the senior denizens of the NTT IndyCar Series flexed their muscles and considerable savvy to dominate the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama.
Starting from the pole, 42-year-old Sato led 74 out of 90 laps in the RLL MiJack Honda and held off 37-year-old Dixon and 40-year-old Bourdais for the fourth victory of his IndyCar career.
“I feel great — it’s the cleanest race I’ve ever won,” said the Japanese native now in his second stint with Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan. “This is a very physically demanding track, but mentally and physically I’m a happy guy.
“We didn’t expect this kind of domination but my engineers and crew did a fantastic job.”
Informed that Mario Andretti (53) was the oldest winner in history and Emerson Fittipaldi and Johnny Rutherford were in victory lane at age 48, Sato responded to the age-old question.
“I am glad to hear that. I could have another 10 years,” replied the perennially happy veteran. “Like I said, it’s extremely tough, but I have a grueling physical routine and I still feel much younger.
“And that’s what I love about this series. Anyone can be at the top of the time sheet, no matter how young or old you are.”
In finishing second for the sixth time at Barber Motorsports Park in his NTT Data Honda, Dixon did what he’s famous for — get maximum points when his car wasn’t that good.
“This field is extra tough with all these fast kids and some of us older guys,” said the five-time IndyCar champion. “It’s very important for the sport to have new faces and winners — just not too many. “
Bourdais’ talent for saving fuel and preserving tires served him well on a two-stop strategy for his SealMaster Honda team.
“That was our plan from the start — pit on Lap 29 or 30. But my team had more faith in me than I did,” said the always-competitive Frenchman who could only hang on for 26 laps before making his initial stop. But his experience came in handy during the closing stages when his rear tires were gone and he was trying to overhaul Dixon.
“I knew I had to be careful and you can feel when that left rear is gone, so that’s all part of playing to your strengths and doing this for many years. I can still drive it 10/10ths at age 40, and I didn’t have any issues (physically). It was a good result on a challenging track.”
And the geezers showed they’ve still got plenty of good miles left.