Takuma Sato

PORTLAND, Oregon — Somewhat lost among the drama surrounding the first-lap crash in the Grand Prix of Portland and the ensuing dramatics among Verizon IndyCar Series championship leaders was the incredible drive from 20th on the starting grid to win Sunday’s race.

Takuma Sato employed excellent pit strategy and a bit of good fortune to secure his third career Verizon IndyCar Series victory and first since rejoining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this season.

“We were a little bit lucky, but also our strategy was perfect,” said Sato, driver of the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda. “The car was really great.

“Today is a lucky day for us. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan team did brilliant commitment, therefore we were positioned to challenge and get the win.”


Sato was among the handful of drivers who stopped under caution on Lap 4 of 105 at Portland International Raceway while the five-car, first-lap incident was being attended by safety and clean-up crews. It allowed the 41-year-old Japanese driver to move up the field as others ahead of him made their first stops later under green.

Sato climbed as high as second place before making his second stop on Lap 39, sliding back to 17th. Once again, he ascended the scoring pylon as the laps ticked on, moving into the race lead on Lap 71 when Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay came to the pits.

Four laps later came the critical moment of the race. When series rookie Santino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing stopped on course, nearly the entire field rushed to pit road in anticipation of a full-course yellow. Sato was able to get in and out of pit lane first, falling into second place behind Carlin’s Max Chilton, who did not stop for another 10 laps.

Sato led the final 21 laps and held off Hunter-Reay, who turned up the pressure in the final few circuits around the 1.964-mile permanent road course once he knew he had enough fuel to make it to the end.

“We came out of the pit road together and eventually we were very close, to side by side,” Sato said of him and Hunter-Reay. “But we both raced I think very well together; we were teammates last year. Ryan is one of the most competitive drivers, I knew he was coming but I kept a good gap.”

By advancing 19 positions from start to finish to win, Sato set a Portland race record. The previous best was Mark Blundell in 1997, who started 11th.

“Looking at the qualifying, we failed, basically,” Sato said. “We were 20th, but if you look at the gap between the front row to the end, it’s very fractional (in lap time difference) so I think everyone can have a chance. It’s difficult to overtake so I think we looked at strategy very carefully.

“I was talking with my engineer (Eddie Jones) and we had to try something different, and it worked beautifully. I started saving fuel from Lap 2 onwards and it was a very careful (strategy), hit the number with the fuel (mileage) and I think it was great. Obviously, a couple of yellows came very positively for our strategy.”

In his ninth Verizon IndyCar Series season, Sato’s previous wins came at Long Beach in 2013 with AJ Foyt Racing and at the Indianapolis 500 last year with Andretti Autosport. In his second stint with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (the first in 2012), he was happy to reward co-owners Mike Lanigan and Bobby Rahal.

“Mike Lanigan is very supportive all the time, saying, ‘Go, Takuma.’ Even when I was with Foyt (and) Andretti, he came and always give me cheering. So did Bobby.

“I'm particularly happy to give such a first win for all of us, really come from 2012. … I was very proud to put my (No.) 30 car in victory lane today.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series completes its 2018 season with the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday, Sept. 16. Live coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.