Takuma Sato and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are off to a great start this season, currently ranked fourth in points after a win at Barber Motorsports Park.
Fresh off pacing testing for the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Japanese driver shared his thoughts entering the month of May with POPULAR OPEN WHEEL.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL: What are your thoughts on the Wednesday Indy test?
TAKUMA SATO It was a very good day. It’s always an exciting great feeling to be back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because it’s such a special place. For me, I haven’t been in the car at superspeedway for a long time so it’s a nice feeling. It was a good day. The weather was a little tricky yesterday, with it raining for a couple hours, so we achieved only half of what we wanted.
But still, I got a good feeling from the car. It’s only meant to be a shakedown for the car yesterday, but we had a very strong performance which is a good sign.
POW: Topping the charts, does that give you an extra boost of confidence for the Indy 500?
SATO: It’s a bit too early to say as it was only testing and I think the ambient temperature and track temperature was too low. If we talk about actual real May, it’s actually much hotter on the racing surface. But we got a good feeling from the car, which is a very good and productive sign. So yeah, definitely we have a more comfortable feeling than last year.
POW: What are your thoughts on the Indy GP?
SATO: We’re quite excited about it since we’ve had strong performances on the road courses this year. We’ve been trying a new concept with the set-up compared to last year. At COTA, we couldn’t optimize on that but obviously in Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, we showed a very strong performance.
I think coming to the indianapolis Grand Prix as a road course, we’ve been able to carry some momentum from the last couple of races and it’s looking very positive.
POW: What is the biggest challenge of the IMS road course?
SATO: The biggest challenge is the track has a unique layout. It has very tight corners that you need a lot of mechanical grip, but it also has the longest straight back using the oval part – which would use higher downforce. So depending on the philosophy, the car may have more downforce to have good speed in the straight, or but you may not get a good lap time through the concrete session.
So to get the balance right is a very narrow window depending on the philosophy. But if you can do it, you can be very strong on the road course.
POW: How would you rate your season so far?
SATO: Very happy. But so far, I’m fourth in the overall points standings which is one of the strongest seasons that I’ve had. So at the early stage of the season, it gives an extra boost and the team morale is very high, and I’m obviously coming to the Indy 500 from the test very positive.
POW: What do you feel you and the team could do even better?
SATO: I think we just need to continue to work together. We already have a much stronger relationship than last year. Needless to say, the team has done an incredible job over the winter to make great progress. I know every team does that over the winter; it’s just making things better. But I also think our relationship is getting stronger and stronger.
It’s just minimizing the mistakes and making sure there’s no issues and problems. We need to be very consistent, but it’s difficult in the series going from road courses to street courses to ovals. At least we’re showing very good performance for each of the tracks; I think we just need to continue to work together. I think that’s the key.
POW: What track do you wish was on the IndyCar schedule that currently isn’t?
SATO: It’s tough to say. There’s a lot of great tracks that have been on the calendar in the past. For example, short ovals – Milwaukee was always a great track. There were a lot of interesting battles there. Also, Fontana for a superspeedway; I think it always gave the fans an exciting race. Then road course, Watkins Glen for example. We were fortunate to have a great couple of seasons over there as I always wanted to race there. Also street course, the Baltimore track; I really enjoyed that.
But I understand there’s a lot of reasons behind new tracks coming on, and some tracks unfortunately have to leave. It’s apart of things, but I wish we could go back to some of those.
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