BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Takuma Sato of Japan has won the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama for his fourth career IndyCar victory.
Sato, the 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner, became the fifth driver to win after starting on the pole at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday and was in control most of the way. Scott Dixon earned his sixth runner-up finish in the race’s 10-year history.
Sato had a late issue when he went into the grass and lost about a second off his lead at the road course. He quickly gained it back over the final laps to win by 2.4 seconds. Dixon held off Sebastien Bourdais for second.
Sato reclaimed the top spot on lap 58 of the 90-lap race after coming out of pit road. It was the 11th lead change, a record for the race. Sato didn’t give it up again despite his precarious moment when he managed to maneuver the No. 30 Honda through the grass and back onto the track.
The ex-Formula 1 racer had become the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race in 2013 and the first to win the Indy 500 four years later.
He had never finished better than eighth at Barber.
Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate, Graham Rahal, started second but ran into mechanical troubles. His car lost power on a straightaway to end his day after 55 laps, but the day was still a big success for the team. Sato won at Portland last year, his first with the team.
Two-time defending champion Josef Newgarden worked his way up to fourth after starting 16th. Newgarden, the series points leader, had won three of the last four Alabama races.
Bourdais navigated the 90-lap race with only two pit stops.
Newgarden, despite a rocky weekend. He rebounded strongly from struggles in practice sessions Friday and Saturday as well as qualifying. He has started the year with three Top-5 finishes and held onto his points lead.
Early throttle issues dropped Rahal back to 15th. Then his car lost power and stopped on a straightaway to end his race after 55 laps.
“I thought it was our day, man,” Rahal said. “I thought it was our weekend. Here and St. Pete getting the flat tire, man, come on. At some point it’s got to change.”
Rookie Colton Herta only made it 51 laps two weeks after becoming IndyCar’s youngest winner in Texas. He turned 19 on March 30.
Streets of Long Beach on Saturday, where Alexander Rossi won last year.