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Now that Japan's Takuma Sato is a member of Andretti Autosport, it gives the team another fast driver to a lineup that already includes some of the top names in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Sato, signed last month, joins 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, 100th Indianapolis 500 winner and Sunoco Rookie of the Year Alexander Rossi and two-time race winner Marco Andretti on the team owned by racing legend Michael Andretti.
In addition to the driver lineup, there are other business opportunities solidified by Sato's arrival since he brings strong connections with both Honda and Panasonic.
“It's obviously important from a number of aspects,” said Rob Edwards, Andretti Autosport’s chief operating officer. “First of all, part of being able to run a proper effort is to make sure it is properly supported. In many ways we've seen where the effort isn't properly supported, the expectations are higher and you don't have the proper tools to deliver.
“I also think when you look at the Andretti portfolio across INDYCAR and all of the platforms we are involved in, it's about building on relationships with top companies like that. Obviously, over the last few years we have had a very successful relationship with Honda and continue to build on that. Panasonic is complementary to the INDYCAR program, but also a number of the other platforms we are involved in, too. That's an exciting relationship to add to the relationships we already have.”
Two companies specifically that can be bolstered by a business-to-business relationship with both Honda and Panasonic are hhgregg and DHL – two major sponsors at Andretti Autosport.
“I think hhgregg is interesting and I think DHL because they are a shipping company and Panasonic ships a lot of things around the world, so there are a lot of connections,” said Edwards (pictured at right). “Panasonic is involved in Formula E with another team and maybe there is potential there to be involved in some of our other series as well.
“It's an opportunity to know more about a top brand and what other synergies exist.”
Sato's business relationships bring opportunities to the team and the driver from Tokyo brings speed and experience to the racing team that has historically been one of the best in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Sato's move to Andretti became official Dec. 2, but was expected after his former employer, AJ Foyt Racing, named Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz as its 2017 drivers on Nov. 15.
“It was a matter of getting some of the behind-the-scenes pieces in place,” Edwards said of the delay in the Sato announcement. “We wanted to make sure the I's were dotted and the T's were crossed before we came out and made it official.
“We haven't worked with Takuma yet and we are going to find out a lot of things, but (hearing) from the people that have worked with him before, he is very strong technically. I think that will be a help to us and complement the other three drivers very well. We are looking forward to getting all four of them working together.”
Sato, who will turn 40 on Jan. 28, has made 118 starts over seven seasons in the Verizon IndyCar Series, following seven years competing in Formula One. His strength is speed and aggression on the track. His weakness has been a tendency to crash.
“If you look over the last few years, you can clearly identify that as the issue to work on. We have some ideas,” Edwards admitted. “It will be interesting because this is a different environment than what Takuma has been in the last few years, in terms of size of the team and his teammates and the experience of his teammates. The ability to tap into (team owners and former drivers) Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta and some of those things will help to keep the speed but get the finishes the speed deserves as well.”
Sato took Foyt's team to victory lane with a win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in 2013 and led the Verizon IndyCar Series points entering the month of May that season. Edwards believes Sato could win one or two races in 2017.
“Absolutely,” Edwards said. “Looking at what we were going to do with the fourth car and who was going to be in the fourth car, winning was part of the conversation. There is no question about his speed. We have all seen that different times. The challenge is developing consistency and turning that into results. It's not about doing 95 percent of the job and then throwing it away.
“That's our challenge and we think we can all put our resource and energy into tackling that.”
Edwards also sees the benefit of having the Andretti Autosport lineups for both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires efforts locked in heading into the new year.
“Everyone here deserves a lot of credit for that,” he said. “Some of the issues and challenge of putting all four-car programs together over the last couple of years has been clear for everyone to see. There has been a lot of hard work how we have grown as an operation commercially and the business side that has enabled us to get to this point.
“To have all four INDYCAR seats and all four Indy Lights seats all wrapped up by the beginning of December is like having Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one and getting it early. It's a huge, huge help with preparations for 2017."