LEXINGTON, Ohio – Takuma Sato heads into today’s Verizon IndyCar Series team testing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a little extra bounce in his step.
That’s because the 39-year-old AJ Foyt Racing driver is coming off a fifth-place finish in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto that equaled his best result of the season. The driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda also climbed more positions (15) from the start of the 85-lap race on the streets of Exhibition Place to the finish than any driver.
Sato followed the path of Canadian favorite James Hinchcliffe. Both made their final pit stop on Lap 47 and nursed their final 18.5-gallon tanks of Sunoco E85R ethanol to the finish.
“A difficult weekend that ended up quite sweet for the No. 14 car with a fantastic result after having had a difficult qualifying and then going through the field,” Sato said. “Larry (Foyt, team president and Sato’s race strategist) and the engineers made the right call for the strategy and the ABC Supply Honda worked really well and the pit stops were really fantastic.”
Sato’s strong run didn’t receive the notoriety that Hinchcliffe’s third-place finish did in his hometown, but it was just as impressive. The seventh-year Verizon Indy Car Series and former Formula One driver was running 16th after making his final stop for fuel and tires, then began picking up places as other drivers peeled off to pit lane. Able to remain on track when seven cars stopped under caution on Lap 60, Sato leaped from 11th to fourth place.
Helio Castroneves did pass Sato under green on Lap 73, but the pride of Japan held off Mikhail Aleshin for fifth over the final 12 laps. It was Sato’s best result since he also finished fifth at Long Beach in April.
“I was able to overtake a few cars on track,” he said. “We were able to save fuel, which was really tight, but a couple yellows saved us. I’m proud of my guys, we achieved a really good result.”
Larry Foyt, who made the decision to have Sato pit on Lap 47, admitted it was a risk worth taking.
“We were in a tough position because you’re in the middle of the pack,” Foyt said. “You have to take a gamble to try to get a good finish because the guys behind us were all going to pit, so I just decided we needed to do it even though it was a longshot.
“For it to work, we needed a couple yellows, but they came so it paid off.”
Sato and teammate Jack Hawksworth are among 17 car/driver combinations participating in today’s team testing in advance of The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio race weekend July 29-31. Among those getting seat time in Indy cars today are Indy Lights drivers Zachary Claman De Melo, RC Enerson, Jack Harvey and Felix Rosenqvist, as well as Formula E driver Robin Frijns.