Photo: David Yowe/INDYCAR

Takuma Sato Column: The Indianapolis 500

By Takuma Sato, Driver Columnist

In his fourth column for Motorsports Tribune, Takuma Sato highlights some of his favorite memories of the Indianapolis 500 as he prepares for his eighth start, first with the defending champions, Andretti Autosport. He also gives an update on how two-time Formula One champion-turned-teammate Fernando Alonso is acclimating to the Verizon IndyCar Series in his one-off run at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The Indianapolis 500 means a lot to me, as I am sure it does to a lot of people. I’ve learned that as you go year by year, you realize on a global level how this special this race truly is. I knew from Day 1 when I came here in 2010, to see over 300,000 people, it was just spectacular. This venue and the energy of this place is an incredible feeling.

Reflecting back on my time there, 2012 is the obvious one that sticks out in my mind. I remember at the time I was driving for Bobby Rahal, and he was also calling my race that day. He came over the radio and said, “Congratulations Takuma, you are now leading the Indianapolis 500!” That one really sticks out as my favorite moment. We were up front a lot that day and led the race, competing at a high level against the Ganassi cars.

We were in a battle for the victory at the end with Dario Franchitti and took the white flag for the final lap of the race. I dove down to make my move under him into Turn 1 on lap 199, but never saw the checkered. It was my ALMOST moment. I wish I came out of Turn 1 pointed in the right direction, but it wasn’t meant to be, I guess. This year, if I could correct something I left over from that day, it would certainly be special.

I’ve had some up and down moments at Indianapolis, but overall, I have mostly great memories here.

Returning to Indianapolis is always exciting, but ever since I joined Andretti Autosport over the winter, I have been looking forward to this May especially. The team has a strong history here and come in as the defending champions after winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. This year is a little different for me, I don’t have one or two teammates to lean on – I have five! With us having six cars in the field that are filled with strong teammates that also have really good engineers, we have had a good go of it and been very productive.

Everyone is working flat-out and I really believe there is an opportunity to do something very special. I can see that this is one of the best opportunities for me to be ultra-competitive on May 28.

It’s been great working with Fernando Alonso, my good old friend from Formula One. He seems to really be enjoying his first trip here, settling in very nicely and he’s been extremely quick as well. But it’s working well not just for Fernando, but Ryan [Hunter-Reay], Marco [Andretti], Alexander [Rossi] and Jack [Harvey] as well.

My number 26 car and crews are working hard and so proud of them. I am really happy with our qualifying result to clock 4th fastest time and put it on row 2. It’s great starting position and I’m very excited about that.

It always feels good to go into Turn 1 at 230 mph. It’s always a fun and exciting moment going through there, and you really have an appreciation for it. We’ve been going through our test program and adjusting for the conditions, just trying to get everything right come race day.

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.