Photo: Bret Kelley/INDYCAR

Takuma Sato Column: Back on Track with Full Attack

By Takuma Sato, Driver Columnist

In his sixth column for Motorsports Tribune, Takuma Sato discusses his return to form in the Verizon IndyCar Series round at Mid-Ohio, readying for the ‘Tricky Triangle’ known as Pocono Raceway, the 2018 Indy car and earning a Japanese lifetime achievement award for his performance in winning the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Rebounding at Mid-Ohio

I was reasonably happy. Obviously, qualifying third and finishing fifth isn’t the perfect scenario, but I was happy to have a strong race. It was a long time since I had a race that good on a pure road course. They are the one track discipline I feel I should be very naturally comfortable. That’s where I came from during my days in Europe. If anyone looked back at my results in 2010, when I was still learning everything on the INDYCAR tour, my paces on the road courses were strong. The last couple of years were a little struggle at times, mostly couldn’t find good grips. Street courses have never been a problem, but the current configurations make racing on a road course tricky at times.

At Mid-Ohio, I think as a team everyone was competitive and we made really good progress from the practice sessions. In the race we had some pit stop issues, but I had an opportunity to get back the track position on the restarts. It brought some good, exciting side-by-side battles and I really enjoyed it. It was a very solid performance for us.

Eyes on Victory at the ‘Tricky Triangle’

I am expecting us to be competitive. Despite being the only other superspeedway we run on, like Indianapolis, the package is a little bit different, but overall it is pretty similar. The Indy-spec has some small differences with the rear wing, which we don’t have at Pocono. Nevertheless, the team has been really competitive at Pocono and I enjoy racing there in the past as well. I feel like this upcoming event is very important for us because the season is starting to wind down. So a good finish is absolutely vital, especially with the following race at Gateway being a little bit of an unknown.

Loving the 2018 Indy car

The new car is so positive for the sport and it looks cool, too. It’s also another great improvement with safety. Everybody has seen that the car has done pretty good right out of the box with the test at Indianapolis and then at Mid-Ohio. What we’re looking for now with the 2018 car is just making sure it will bring closer racing. The aero package is always exciting for fans and with this it brings a cosmetically different approach for the car. The current aero package has been difficult at times because of how the two clever manufacturers were able to generate too much downforce and league had to cut some off from floor modification for safety reasons i.e. try not too go fast. But because of that, the car rely on mostly upper wings and if you get closer on the other car you lose downforce so badly, making the racing element tougher. With the 2018 package as spec, car was designed for specific down-force level with floor and diffuser working together it should raise the level of close racing, particularly at the short ovals and road courses.

Formula 1 puts enormous focus in the aero work in whole car. It’s such a complex system that creates a ton of downforce, which changes the airflow so much that it makes it tough to follow. That’s part of the reason the DRS system is necessary in Formula 1, without that it would likely be near impossible to see overtakes.

Having said that, if you go back to before 2015 season in IndyCar, where we basically had spec aero, which wasn’t super-sophisticated but the underwing really made the racing more competitive and exciting. I think this new aero kit looks more elegant and more current, with more safety, and brings a good balance for the kind of racing we want to do.

Small example of today’s downforce levels, the current spec can pull close to 6g-forces in qualifying at Iowa Speedway, which is enormous. I enjoy driving cars fast and doing everything to make them go faster, that’s the racing mentality. I can’t wait to get the chance to drive the Indy car.

The new car should provide a good challenge for the engineers in trying to find mechanical grip as well, which is fun. The technology involved in this new car is just so great and exciting to see.

One of the Greatest Honors

I went to Japan at the beginning of the break and received the Prime Minister Award by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. An incredible honor as I am only the 33rd recipient in history to get this award, so it’s very exciting. It’s great for the sport as well because I am the first person in motorsports to receive the lifetime accomplishment.

Next up is testing at Watkins Glen with my teammates before we get ready for Pocono on August 20th.

Tags : , , , , , ,

Takuma Sato pilots the No. 26 Honda for Andretti Autosport in the Verizon IndyCar Series. A veteran of 119 starts heading into 2017, Sato won the 2013 edition of the Grand Prix of Long Beach. The native of Tokyo, Japan, also enjoyed seven seasons in Formula 1 prior to coming over to the United States to compete in the Indianapolis 500.