SAO PAULO — Japan's Takuma Sato had almost everything go wrong in the Sao Paulo 300. He just kept pressing, though, and somehow found a way to his first podium finish in IndyCar on Sunday.
Sato had a remarkable drive on the streets of Sao Paulo, being aggressive and taking advantage of pit strategy after starting in the last row and overcoming a drive-thru penalty early in the race. He crossed the line just a few seconds behind winner Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"It is a fantastic feeling to finish third. It was an eventful race starting from the back of the grid. I needed to fight back so hard to get the positions back," Sato said.
A podium finish was the last thing Sato expected to get considering the way his weekend started. He got only a few laps of practice because of a gear box problem on Saturday, and couldn't post a time in qualifying after having to change his engine. He was penalized 10 spots on the grid and started 25th.
"After a difficult weekend, it is a relief to get this result and I am really pleased to bring the team a third place and see the first checkered flag of the season. It was a great day," said the 35-year-old driver from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Sato was set to make his first podium in IndyCar two weeks ago in Long Beach, but he was spun by Hunter-Reay on the last lap. IndyCar assessed a 30-second penalty on Hunter-Reay because of the accident. Sato was still eighth, his best finishing position this season until Sunday.
Sato got the all the luck he needed this weekend, though, especially by avoiding going a lap down early in the race because of a drive-thru penalty. He just made it back to the track in front of the pace car and was able to charge to the front from there.
Using a three-pit strategy, one more than the leaders, Sato had to be aggressive to make up the lost time on the track.
"The first part of the race was really hard, not necessarily on the overtaking but to follow the strategy, and at one stage we had a pit speed penalty but we gradually moved up. One-by-one we overtook cars, which was very exciting."
Sato had led the race in Brazil last year after also betting on a different pit strategy, but in the end it didn't end up working and he was eighth.
The restarts also were key for the former Formula One driver this Sunday. On the second-to-last green flag, Sato made a bold move to pass Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti at the first corner to move from fifth to third.
"There is always opportunity on a restart but you never know until you hit the brake because there is no plan basically," he said. "When Helio and Dario were in front of me, two wide, initially I thought there was no chance but when I saw their braking point was earlier than I expected I saw a little opportunity to dive inside. I was confident that I would make the corner so I was very excited."
Sato's previous best finish was fourth in Mid-Ohio in 2011.
Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni