Indy winner Sato admits he was “very, very close” on fuel
Takuma Sato, winner of the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500, says he was having to juggle the fuel mixture in his #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda to keep ahead of Scott Dixon and ensure he had enough fuel to make it to the end of the race.
Sato pitted for the final time on Lap 168 of the 200-lap race, whereas Dixon and Sato’s RLL teammate Graham Rahal stopped one lap later. Dixon emerged ahead of the Japanese driver but with 28 laps to go Sato drafted past the Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda.
When the two off-strategy cars 10sec ahead, those of Zach Veach and Max Chilton, both hit pitlane by Lap 185, Sato was into the lead. Twice Sato had to stave off the charging Dixon and force him to try the long way around at Turn 1, but the 2008 Indy winner and five-time champ tucked back in behind. With 10 laps to go, Sato was 0.7sec ahead but that reduced heavily as they approached traffic.
On Lap 196, Sato’s third teammate, Spencer Pigot in the Citrone Buhl Autosport/RLL car had a huge shunt coming out of Turn 4, and IndyCar ran out the remaining laps under yellow, rather than halt the pack for a two- or three-lap sprint to the checkered flag.
IndyCar Race Control declared: “IndyCar makes every effort to end races under green, but in this case, following the assessment of the incident, there were too few laps remaining to gather the field behind the pace car, issue a red flag and then restart for a green-flag finish.”
Dixon remarked afterward that he was sure Sato wouldn’t be able to make it to the checkered flag and Sato confirmed it was a delicate operation to balance between running rich fuel mixture and leaning it out whenever possible.
“We all knew and observed that Scott was the best competitor for really the entire two weeks,” said Sato afterward. “Dixie and Ganassi did a phenomenal job to always have the car in the competitive situation. He led the start, and then just disappeared. I was able to hang on at that time, I was playing with mixtures, seeing how much fuel mileage we could get out of it.
“Ryan [Hunter-Reay] caught us with speed and I basically wanted to see how the single-car traffic with the double-car track compared.
“So the first 100 laps, you wanted to be top three/top-five, that was always my thought coming into this race. If I had the opportunity, yes, I want to lead it but then you’re using too much fuel…
“I realized that yes, we had a very competitive package and every single pitstop we made some changes. And we went back and forth, back and forth because we went too much greedy, went too much conservative, went too much greedy again. And then finally for the last three stints I was happy with the car. The second half of every stint I knew I was very strong, I had very good speed.
“However, after the pitstop when I took the lead [on Lap 157] I got a voice from the pit that I was using too much fuel, so I had to back off and lean the [fuel] mixture, and as you could see immediately Scott caught me.
“At this point I had to switch back to maximum power and so when he was three cars or four car [lengths] behind, I would go back to the leaner mixture.
“And we were close. No doubt, that last yellow saved us, but even without it I was meeting the [fuel] number. Even if we had gone through [the final stint] entirely green, I think we would have been OK.
“However, still I think I would have been threatened from Dixie for the last few laps when he would probably have been 100 percent rich power. I had some of that in the pocket, but otherwise it was very, very close.”
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