Takuma Sato knows what it feels like to have a victory in the Indianapolis 500 just within reach.
Running second in 2012, he made his move inside of Dario Franchitti on the last lap, getting loose and crashing into the wall.
At the end of this year’s race, he hopes not only to be in the same position, but to be celebrating in victory lane with his A.J. Foyt Racing team.
“For the drivers, to be honest, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the 99th or 100th running – it’s the Indy 500,” Sato told Popular Open Wheel. “It’s such an important race for us and after 2012, coming so close to winning the race, I have been saying to myself that I wish I could’ve done it then. But now I know how to get there, and now how I need to handle it so I can do it.”
Sato is set to start the Greatest Spectacle in Racing from the 12th position. After eight practice sessions thus far, he feels his No. 14 ABC Supply Co./Panasonic Honda will be strong in the race.
“Obviously, I’m very happy to get in the fourth row in qualifying,” he said. “It was an outstanding performance by the team. I was lucky to get this opportunity to run in the Indy 500 in such a historical event.”
Monday’s practice, which saw drivers running three-, sometimes four-wide, promises a competitive race.
“I think you will see exactly as you’ve seen the last few days in practice, and even get wilder in the last few laps,” Sato said. “I think getting so close performance wise between Honda and rivals; I think it’s going to be the most exciting Indy 500 ever.
“Since 2012, there were so many lead changes because this car runs so well in tow. You get most out of it when you get behind the car, and so many possibilities for the performance out of the car.”
Honda’s speed at Indianapolis has been a surprise to many in the paddock, especially given how dominant Chevrolet has been recently. The bowtie brigade won 11 of 16 races last year and picked up where they left off this season. But Honda has put their eggs in the Indy basket, putting two of their drivers on the front row for the 500.
“From race fan’s point of view, it makes it exciting and for us, we can have a strong performance and race to win,” he said. “Last two seasons for us in the Indy 500, it was a pair of tough seasons. But Honda really did a great job, and HPD produced such a strong, powerful engine.
“The rule change allowed Honda to put in more power. Then, of course, the aero package, we introduced the domed skids, a safety device. It’s sort of reset the pair of manufacturers and how they’re going to achieve downforce, and I think it’s working out really well for Honda.”
The speed has brought some reliability issues. Three Honda engines have been lost in practice so far. Sato acknowledged those concerns, but ultimately knows it’s out of his hands.
“If I said there was no concern, I’d be lying, so there is a little concern,” Sato said. “But there’s nothing we can we do. I have to believe in what HPD brings up, and I know Honda is working on it in solving the problem. HPD is working frantically on the dynos in California to duplicate the problem. They may come up with an engineer mapping strategy that will take away the problem. So I have to stay focused and just assume that we’ll be okay.”
Sato will get one last practice Friday, and feels his three-car team will be able to try something new during the session.
Despite this, though, he feels they’ve got what they can get out of the car.
“The racing started half a year ago, three months ago, in how the team prepares equipment and test program, and running program,” he said. “When you get here, most of the things are always decided 50 percent.”
Sato has yet to post a podium finish in 2016. He only has two top 10 finishes in five starts, so a good run at Indy would go a long way in getting the Japanese driver’s season on track.
“We haven’t performed right there at the top, but it’s the most consistent season since I joined the team,” he said. “Obviously having said (that), 2013 was probably the best in performance point of view. But we have a strong package to be able to compete in top result.
“Hopefully the second half of the season after the Indy 500, we’ll be grabbing more podiums.”
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