An anticipated offseason driver switch became official today as Andretti Autosport announced the hiring of Takuma Sato to complete team owner Michael Andretti’s four-car lineup for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series.
Sato, whose previous four seasons were with AJ Foyt Racing, will be in the No. 26 Honda car previously driven by Carlos Munoz, who recently signed with Foyt. Munoz’s 10th-place points finish was the highest for an Andretti Autosport driver in 2016. Sato finished 17th for Foyt.
Andretti is convinced Sato, 39, is capable of so much more. The Japanese driver won at Long Beach in 2013, Foyt’s only series victory since 2002.
“He’s never really been with a team that can show what he has,” Andretti said recently. “In our environment, it’s going to work really well for him. There’s a lot more to come from Takuma in my mind.”
Sato brings a wealth of experience to a team that has won four championships but struggled last season aside from rookie Alexander Rossi winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Before beginning his INDYCAR career in 2010 with KV Racing Technology, Sato had 90 career Formula One starts including a podium finish in the 2004 U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In 118 Verizon IndyCar Series starts over seven seasons, he’s had five podiums and five poles in addition to his lone win.
“I am extremely excited that we were able to work out a deal with Michael and Andretti Autosport,” Sato said in a team news release. “With Honda an integral part of Andretti Autosport, it seemed like a great fit. The team has proven year after year that they are ultra-competitive on all types of circuits. Particularly the speed that team has shown in recent years at the Indy 500 were just incredible.
“I am also very impressed on how aggressively they have addressed their needs for 2017 and am really looking forward to working with my new environment and can’t wait to get started.”
Sato joins 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Rossi in a collaborative effort that Michael Andretti anticipates will be to everyone’s benefit.
“He’s not yet had the chance to be part of a larger team where the drivers collaborate; our four drivers and team of engineers working together has bred success for us in the past and has helped many drivers develop on track,” the team owner said in a release. “Takuma has strong racing experience and we are looking forward to providing a team atmosphere where he can continue to grow, develop and be successful.”
Andretti was impressed by Sato’s open and engaging personality. And the team owner said it’s the earliest he’s ever had his drivers set for the next season.
“We’ve got a great driver lineup,” Andretti said. “Takuma has shown he’s very fast and I think he’s very good technically as well. We’re looking forward to him coming and contributing.”
Hunter-Reay also spoke recently about looking forward to working with Sato.
“He has vast experience in Formula One and INDYCAR,” the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion said. “He’s a race winner and has shown a lot of pace over the years, so hopefully he can merge right in with our team and become a part of the process that we have that works so efficiently.”