Sato Talks About Racing In The Boss’s House

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 6 2013

Takuma Sata and the A.J. Foyt Racing team celebrate in Victory Lane at Long Beach. This weekend they are in team owner A.J. Foyt's home state of Texas. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – When he joined A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply Racing team this year, Takuma Sato’s first sponsor “obligation” was a seven-day cruise in the Caribbean aboard Holland-America’s “Eurodam” charter in January. While at sea, the ex-Formula 1 driver sat down for an interview that covered a wide range of topics.

Sato’s thoughts on oval-track racing are timely as the IZOD IndyCar Series set-up at Texas Motor Speedway – the only high-banked/1.5-mile superspeedway on the schedule – for Saturday night’s Firestone 550 night race. The event will be Sato’s 22nd IndyCar Series start on an oval. In six starts this year, the native of Tokyo scored his first series victory on the Streets of Long Beach on April 21, a second-place finish in Brazil and another top-10 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

But oval-track racing admittedly was an acquired taste for Sato, who joined the IndyCar Series in 2010 with KV Racing Technology before moving to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2012.

“I went with a clean sheet of paper; there were tons of things I had to learn and things I would have to adapt to for oval-track racing,” said Sato, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Dallara/Honda. “Not hugely different because at the end of the day you still have to work with four tires and make the most of it. It’s a different kind of driving, going into the corners, especially if you follow someone, the way you position yourself is extremely delicate for the airflow. Then you have to time it right to get back on the gas because you’re traveling at such high speeds _over 200 mph. The car doesn’t really accelerate well at speed even with massive power because we’re hitting terminal velocity with the air. The car accelerates really slowly which is why when you lift a little bit, you decelerate so much that it takes a long time to get back up to speed…in some cases it needs a lap.

“In a normal road course, from corner to corner you accelerate from second gear to top gear within seconds then

Larry Foyt and driver Takuma Sato have won once this year already.

braking into the next corner, but on the oval you don’t do that. You just try to keep a good momentum and be positioned where you need to be in traffic; it’s important to work a very fine line for the air rather than the ultimate racing line. Then you’re talking about balance for the understeer and oversteer. The real oversteer is never going to work on an oval because you just can’t have it _ you don’t counter-steer on ovals. On the road course there are a lot of corrections, so the driver wants a neutral car (not too much over or understeer) so you have your own reference.

“You play with the anti-roll bars front and rear, and the weight-jacker to move around which corner (tire) you want to work hard for adjusting the balance of the car. And you’re doing it constantly because the car is changing all the time with the tire wear, changing track conditions and you’re using the fuel, so the balance is changing _ very lightly but it’s changing all the time. Since the car needs to be near-perfect on the oval, the driver has to adjust it quite a lot, which is good fun.”

Sato’s first experience with ovals was on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway in 2010, when he started 11th and finished 24th. That year Sato ran four 1.5-mile tracks: Kansas Speedway, TMS, Chicagoland Speedway and Homestead-Homestead Speedway, three of which no longer are part of the series.

Sato, 36, currently is sixth in the driver standings with 175 points, two behind Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, who scored his first series victory for Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports in Race 2 of last weekend’s doubleheader at Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. Sato is 31 points behind series co-leaders Helio Castroneves of Team Penske and Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport.

Sato’s best start at TMS is fourth and his highest finish is fifth, both coming in the first of two races at the track in 2011. The Foyt organization’s best finish at TMS was recorded in 1998 when Billy Boat won the True Value 500k _ his first career victory and first for Foyt in his home state. Ironically, the year before Boat had taken the checkered flag first but USAC scorers ruled the following day he had finished second to Arie Luyendyk.

Foyt, who scored 67 career Indy car victories, said he rarely had a race when he didn’t “thrill the hell out of himself.’^” Asked if he experienced similar emotions, Sato said, “Yes, of course, all the time. You’re traveling too fast! As a human being I do, but at the same time, it’s great excitement, too. And the excitement and determination always overcomes the fear that is part of racing. Usually when you feel fear, it’s that time when you cannot see the future.

“It sounds strange, but what I’m trying to say is that people feel fear because they don’t know what’s going on. If you know the future, you’re not scared because you can prepare. If you have the car under control, and you are controlling the car really well, you don’t feel fear even if you’re sliding at over 200 mph because you know you can control it or catch it. But if you’re not happy with the car balance, then you don’t know what’s going on, and you feel really bad. Or if it is raining, and you can’t see because of the water splashing, then you feel fear a lot. That’s why if you’re comfortable, you really enjoy the racing. You have to be comfortable. But at same time, physically, you know how fast you’re traveling, and the energy of this is so big, that yes, I do feel fear.”

Oriol Servia will drive the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet at TMS this weekend and at Iowa Speedway on June 23. Servia, who has worked directly with Panther through the team’s technical alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for the past year, was available after Dreyer & Reinbold Racing elected to not continue its No. 22 car program after the May 26 Indianapolis 500.

“Oriol has been part of our extended family for over a year now, so this will be a seamless transition for the National Guard team,” said John Barnes, Panther’s managing partner. “We know what Oriol is capable of, and our team is always happy to add a driver that can contend at any circuit on the IndyCar schedule.”

In five events this season, Servia has a best finish of fourth at Brazil (after starting 13th). He has a best finish of 15th in four starts on the TMS oval. The Spaniard started 15th and finished 21st (mechanical) at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway oval last June.

“I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity,” said Servia, 38. “Firstly, it’s a job, but it’s with a team that I’ve been working very closely with for the last year. Not only do I know everybody that works there, but I know the potential for the National Guard car and the performance we’ve had will give us a chance to win.”

Panther is not expected to name a full-time replacement in the No. 4 car this season. The team announced the “mutual termination” of JR Hildebrand’s contract last week, after he crashed-out of the Indy 500 on Lap 3. Ryan Briscoe drove for the team during last weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans. Briscoe is under consideration to compete in additional IndyCar Series races that do not conflict with his sports car racing commitments.

The Milwaukee IndyFest on June 15 sits between the races in Texas and Iowa. “The biggest thing we want to accomplish the rest of this season is having a clear direction on who will be the driver of the No. 4 car in 2014,” Barnes said in a statement. “We’re going to take full advantage of the opening we have here to determine what is in the best interest of the National Guard and Panther Racing’s long-term future. With limited off-season testing, this is a great chance for us to get familiar with several drivers in a true race weekend scenario.

“We think the world of Servia, and we couldn’t have been happier with Ryan Briscoe last weekend in Detroit. But there may be a few others who will have a run in our car before the season ends.”

Pippa Mann will rejoin Dale Coyne Racing to drive the No. 18 CyclopsGear.com Dallara/Honda in Saturday night’s Firestone 550.

Mann, 29, started and finished 30th in the No. 63 Coyne Racing car in the Indianapolis 500 on May 26. “It’s exciting to be in the No. 18 car that finished 15th in the Indianapolis 500 (with Ana Beatriz driving) and finished first and third this past weekend in Detroit.” Mike Conway drove the car in the doubleheader at Raceway at Bell Isle Park.

This event will be Mann’s second IndyCar Series race on a 1.5-mile oval (2011 at Kentucky Speedway for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing). She won a Firestone Indy Lights race on the Kentucky layout in 2010.

“Texas Motor Speedway actually has some pretty special memories for me because it was the venue of my first-ever IndyCar outing,” Mann said. “That test with Conquest Racing led to my first Indy 500 in 2011, so I’m really looking forward to going back there for the race this weekend. I know driving the car will be pretty different from the last time I drove at that track, but the CyclopsGear car was great at Indy and I’m definitely ready to be reunited with her in Texas.”

Mann’s teammate, Justin Wilson, won the Firestone 550 last year.

Reigning Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan has landed a new sponsor beginning with the Firestone 550. In a renewed relationship with longtime Indy car sponsor Sunoco, Kanaan will drive the No. 11 Sunoco “Turbo” Dallara/Chevrolet here, at Iowa Speedway (June 23), Pocono Raceway (July 7) and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 4).

The car’s livery will feature the lead character from the upcoming DreamWorks Animation feature film “Turbo” _ a snail whose dreams of competing in the Indianapolis 500 come true. The film features the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sunoco’s first Indy car race as a primary sponsor was on Dec. 1, 1968, at Riverside, Calif. The No. 12 Sunoco Eagle driven by the late Mark Donohue for Penske Racing started fifth and finished 21st (broken right-front suspension). In 1972, the blue-and-yellow No. 66 Sunoco McLaren won the Indianapolis 500 _ the first for Roger Penske, Donohue and Sunoco.

Sunoco returned to the IndyCar Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month as primary sponsor of the No. 60 Sunoco “Turbo” Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet driven by Townsend Bell.

“I am very proud and happy that Sunoco will be my primary sponsor for four upcoming races,” Kanaan said during a teleconference. “Along with Sunoco, ‘Turbo’ will be riding with me in those events. My son, Leo, will be excited to see that, and I am very proud to be associated with what is sure to be a very special movie.

“Sunoco has a long heritage in Indy car racing beginning in the late 1960s and is a proven winner. I look forward to my association with them and hopefully get them to Victory Circle starting in Texas.”

Ratings for ABC’s live telecast of the second race of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit on Sunday grew 14 percent over last year’s telecast, which also aired on ABC. The network earned a 0.8 overnight rating, up from a 0.7 overnight for last year’s race at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The Saturday race, which was new this year, earned a 0.7 overnight rating on ABC. The network will televise Saturday’s race here beginning at 8:30 p.m. (EDT).

Several markets saw large increases in overnights year-over-year, including Indianapolis, which led all markets with a 3.8 rating, up 54 percent from last year’s 2.4. Nashville saw a 300 percent increase, earning a 1.6 rating compared to a 0.4 overnight last year.

Numbers worth noting from the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit, the sixth and seventh races of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season:

1 _ IndyCar Series victory by Simon Pagenaud and his team, Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports.

2 _ Drivers who finished in the top-five in each race at Detroit: Mike Conway of Dale Coyne Racing and Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

3 _IndyCar Series wins for Dale Coyne Racing, which took three of six podium positions available at Belle Isle…Times Helio Castroneves of Team Penske has held the point lead in 2013.

25 _ Positions improved by Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing during both races, the most positions gained by any driver.

42 _ Laps that Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing improved his position over the 140 laps of competition, most of any driver.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 6 2013
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