By Tyson Lautenschlager // OnPitRoad.com // May 25, 2016
Takuma Sato was within one lap of becoming an Indianapolis 500 champion in 2012. A crash on the final lap while trying to take the lead away from eventual winner Dario Franchitti meant the Japanese driver fell short of his Indy 500 dreams, but Sato is ready for another shot at glory on Sunday.
Sato qualified his No. 14 ABC Supply Company Honda in the 12th position for Sunday’s running of the 100th Indianapolis 500. The qualifying effort that put him on the fourth row surprised many as he and his AJ Foyt Racing teammates have lacked speed during practice, but Sato believes he and his team have found the pace for Sunday.
“I was personally obviously really happy to get in the fourth row in 12th place for qualifying, which was a stunning performance from the team,” Sato told OnPitRoad.com on Indianapolis 500 media day in Toronto. “At the beginning of the practice days over the last few weeks, we were a little bit nervous about how we were going to be, but we were confident that we were focussing our performance.
“On fast Friday, we were pretty close – and by Saturday for qualifying – and of course Sunday, Honda got pole position after four years. We’re very strong, and very equal, so it seems to be two manufacturers meeting in very close performance.”
Over the last few years in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock, Honda has lacked speed, and been behind the eight-ball with Chevy out in front. However, at Indianapolis, it seems that Honda has turned the corner and found the speed they need to compete for the win.
“The last two seasons were tough seasons, but Honda really did a great job to recover and HPD (Honda Performance Development) produced such a strong, powerful engine,” Sato said. “With the air package, we obviously introduced the domed skid for the safety device. Now, it sort of becomes a reset for the two manufacturers and how we’re going to achieve the same downforce. I think Honda did work out pretty well, so that’s why I think on Sunday it’s going to be very close, and very challenging, and I think it’ll be the most exciting Indy 500.”
For this weekend’s Indy 500, Sato has two teammates instead of his usual one in Jack Hawksworth. Alex Tagliani joined AJ Foyt Racing for the second year in a row during the month of May. The ability to have more teammates has helped the whole team work closer together in order to have success in the race.
“I think we’re working extremely well,” Sato said. “It was a bitter qualifying for Alex, but obviously don’t forget, he was pole sitter here in 2011. He knows how to run fast here, so he was a great addition for the team. Not only for the 500, but he ran the (Indy) GP too, and that just gives us stability.
“This is the second year the three of us are working together and it only makes us stronger,” Sato continued. “We divide up the test items, then we share the data – we make the cars faster together. It works really well.”
Sato said that despite this being the milestone 100th Indianapolis 500, the objective hasn’t changed – the goal is still to be drinking the milk in victory lane on Sunday.
“For me, the 100th running is just an additional bonus,” Sato said. “But to be honest, for the drivers and teams who participate, it doesn’t matter whether it was the 99th or the 101st. The Indy 500 is the Indy 500. It is such an important race for us, and after 2012, coming so close to winning the race, I’ve been wishing it was pointing the right direction coming out of turn one a million times. Now I know how I need to handle it, but at least I’ve experienced it. I’ve tasted it, and that just makes me so much hungrier to win it.”