By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
MADISON, Ill. — Just 0.0399 of a second was all the difference Takuma Sato denied Ed Carpenter from scoring his first NTT IndyCar Series triumph in over five years at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
“It could have been a little better if we had a little bit longer straightaway or another lap,” Carpenter on losing by a small margin. “But it was nice to finish on a high note, especially after the day we had yesterday.”
Carpenter’s No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet had an entire worked cut out for him after once again qualifying outside the top-10 on the ovals. This was a result of feeling uncomfortable with his car at the 1.25-mile circuit Friday, but his own race team were able to improve on it come Saturday night.
“We were really bad yesterday. I really wasn’t comfortable,” Carpenter said. “Having a hard time figuring out how to get the car to work. The guys did a really good job keeping their head down and staying focused, dealing with my whining all day yesterday and overnight. They delivered today.”
Carpenter’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 journey was a game of being in the right place at the right time. He was among a few drivers who went from mid-pack to suddenly towards the top three due to a game-changing pitting strategy and the fifth and final caution coming out for a crash by Sebastien Bourdais on Lap 192.
Carpenter’s final race of the season boiled down to defending a valuable track position he’s been granted and certainly made the most of his time towards the front of the field those last 44 laps.
However, he had a small hurdle to deal with less than 15 to go and that was Santino Ferrucci, who led a race-high 97 of 248 laps.
Coming down to the wire, Carpenter was able to hold to third after Ferrucci went up to the marbles in Turn 1 after a bid of going all out went awry. Then Carpenter had his eyes on catching second place Tony Kanaan and race leader Sato.
The oval specialist successfully got by Kanaan with two laps and was quickly catching Sato coming to the white flag. It appeared Sato had it in the bag with a strong Turn 1 exit but suddenly Carpenter had tremendous momentum as they came towards the front stretch.
Carpenter drafted and went high but he just ran out of time as Sato scored his second win of the season.
The 38-year-old climbed out of his owned Chevrolet with some pride as it marked his first podium finish since last year’s Indianapolis 500, where he too finished runner-up.
“Really feel like we had a good car the whole race. They asked me pretty early on what I needed,” Carpenter said. “I was just like, we really need track position. I think we have good pace to run with anybody. Fortunately we caught a couple breaks with the yellows, put us in a good position. We were able to almost close it out.”
Saturday’s race at Gateway marked Carpenter’s final race of the season as the remaining rounds are road courses and driven by Ed Jones.
Carpenter commented that a runner-up effort to close out will help him psychologically more than anything as he’ll now have to wait until quite awhile to hit the track.
“It helps my psyche I think more than anything,” Carpenter said. “Heather can tell you I wasn’t very happy last night. Certainly tonight will be a lot better. The hardest part now is just waiting to go again. We’ve got a resilient bunch. Like I said earlier, proud of the effort, proud of them sticking with me and delivering when it counted.”