It was looking rough for two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato in the days leading up to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The new Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing driver wasn’t finding much speed or luck in the opening practice sessions, which ended in contact when Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean stoved into the back of his No. 51 Honda on Saturday morning.
Short on mileage with Firestone’s faster red-banded alternate tires, Sato went into qualifying on reds and was quickly dispatched, relegated to starting in 22nd place among the 26 drivers in the field. A weekend that continued trending in the wrong direction was eventually salvaged as Sato and the No. 51 crew ran as high as seventh on their two-stop strategy. Despite losing ground on his final pit stop and falling to 15th, Sato turned his 200th IndyCar start into something meaningful as he rallied to finish 10th.
“A top 10 finish for my first race with Dale Coyne Racing with RWR,” said the irrepressible 45-year-old. “The boys did a fantastic job. We had a difficult weekend to start with and qualifying wasn’t ideal. We were starting near the back of the grid and we gradually moved up. We had a fun start and made a couple of places up and had a solid performance in every stint.”
Sato and St. Petersburg have always been a great combination. Having earned a pole position at the track in 2014 and just claimed his 10th top 10 result, it should come as no surprise that he was able to improve 12 positions and give DCRwRWR a great start to their relationship.
“Normally a lot of things happen in St. Petersburg, but it didn’t this year,” he said of the single caution period that emerged for his teammate David Malukas’ crash. “We had the biggest mover of the race so that was fantastic. It was a great effort from the team. I’m really looking forward to the next race in Texas. This weekend went really well and I’m settling in well with the team.”