Q and A with AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato
MODERATOR: Welcome to the Economaki Press Conference Room. Another Tuesday for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. And today we have a gentleman who was the winner at Long Beach. He sits atop the IZOD IndyCar Series points. He brings A.J. Foyt Racing/ABC Supply right to the top, and that seems like old home for many of us. It's been a spectacular year, Takuma, and you're back to a place where you almost won a year ago.
TAKUMA SATO: First of all, good morning, everyone. Really nice to be back in Indy. As we just talked, really the '500' last year is just unforgettable day for me, and I just seconds by seconds what happening the your last six laps -- not just the last six, but the whole entire weekend and month. You could say that it was special and spectacular show. I think at the end of the day, obviously, I was disappointed with the result, but still it was just tremendous support from the team and had a great experience to experience really to leading the championship -- not championship, leading the '500' the first time. It was a special feeling and in particular after the hard, you know, had a hard fight, hard race with everyone, when he come back to the garage, hundreds of fans waited and cheered me a big time and Bobby (Rahal) really give a big hand. And it was just a special event.
MODERATOR: Given that, given the fact that you not only did so well in Long Beach, come off a good run in Brazil, you've had great success here, you're leading the points. You've got to feel just full of confidence going into this event.
SATO: I did. Every single event is counting for the confidence. Which, by the way, obviously this year is an entirely new challenge with A.J. Foyt Racing team, which is very exciting, of course. Meet A.J. is something special and having an opportunity from him to race for him and his team, it's really honor to be. And I really feel proud to be part of the racing team there because the guys, it's a small team, relatively small team -- well, say not big team. But I think it is a bunch of quality people, a bunch of the people who already having a tremendous time from A.J. Foyt time and are still there. That's something that's very unique, I think.
And, of course, talking about performance, it's very impressive last year that the team really ramping up rapidly, very impressive with all the various, putting the things like leading a team to put everybody in the right place, right time. You know, it's just managing a team really well. So that's starting to show the performance.
When I jump into the car, I remember very clearly that first time at Sebring this winter test, the car was a bit different from what I was used to from last year but it was very, very consistent. I thought, 'Hmm, this consistency, if you can maintain it, just sharpen up the speed, we could have been really, really strong.' And that's what we did.
And on Don Halliday, in my racing tenure, I know him long time. Obviously, in this series, he did a really great job. And it was just an immediate bond between me and him. And all the whole entire team really worked well, and everybody see at Long Beach it was the perfect race. No one made a mistake. Nothing, you know, nothing wrong. And no bad luck at all. So there was a beautiful day.
And, of course, Brazil was one of the most exciting races we ever had. In the end, obviously, I was obviously disappointed being second, but still I think it's a great satisfaction for the series doing a fantastic job, and to be able to be leading a championship after Brazil is an extra bonus for me.
MODERATOR: Very good. Questions for Takuma.
Q: Takuma, you have for this race a teammate, Conor Daly, and he was busy last weekend racing GP3 in Barcelona, flew over here. Are you also involved in helping the setting up his car and guide him through all the procedures?
SATO: Sure. Obviously, he had had really difficult -- not difficult, a busy time over the course of the last weekend and doing the racing in Europe and come here and jump straight into Indy car doing 219, 220 miles per hour, it is a very different world. But I think he did it very well and was really impressed that his speed is coming so quickly, which is very important for me that he's up to the speed. Today, actually, we can split the proper program for the test program between two cars to evaluate so many great things. So Sunday our team has got a doubled-up data.
So obviously he did a really good test at the wintertime and did last December while I wasn't in, not being in a contract, he did very impressive job. And everyone knew obviously he's a talented, quick kid.
But to be able to be up to the speed yesterday was something that give me really confidence that we can share the good data. Of course, the car he drove yesterday was exactly the carbon-copy setup what we developed, and it was really good. You know, the car should be straight away to be able to be competitive through the ROP program, which at the end of the day he was clocking 219 miles an hour, which is really fast, you know. So that's really good.
He enjoyed being here. He seems to enjoy even the little traffic yesterday he experienced, and, for sure, in the next four days for him it's another entire experience. But I'm confident we both work together, we share the data and we both pushing the team as much as we could.
MODERATOR: Questions for Takuma?
Q: Takuma, we saw you talking very closely with Conor during his orientation yesterday while he was in the cockpit. What did you have to offer him from your experience here that translated on the track for him?
SATO: Sure. He has some little experience from junior formula days in oval, but he never receive it in Indy. This is such a special place. You could say oval, but it's counting slightly unique. So the line he's taking and where you approach, you know, where you could use a tool, like tool bars and weight jack and stuff like that, he's been instructed from the engineer, but it was such a short time before he jump in the car.
Once he jump in the car, you really, it is difficult for us to, how can I say, to accommodate all the speed and everything. So there's so much pressure. I loosened him up and tell him explain what he does. What I could see from his line, taking too tight line at the beginning because probably he wanted away from the wall, but then he at the same time went on the white line, too. I told him that's like me on the very last lap, so don't do that, that sort of thing. (Laughter)
He was laughing and he could obviously get pressure off, and it was a good time. So very impressive.
Q: You've raced for Bobby (Rahal), A.J. (Foyt) and now Jimmy (Vasser) -- sorry, Jimmy, A.J. What is the best advice those three have given to you about racing here?
SATO: Sure. Every person is race icon for this sport. I was really impressed with Jimmy. He gave me the first opportunity to come here from Europe and give me a great opportunity to race with him. He's probably the, knowing the latest of all, in terms of the age and the closest for us, that he experienced as at very least in formulas and IndyCar. So he knows how to do it in current format of the IndyCar racing. So it was really great advice. Everything, of course, we go on ovals and how you do it. It was a good time.
But then none of them is not really advising me to how to drive. Of course, up until this level, you know, you don't really need to know how to do it. But, of course, there is ovals and talking about ovals like Indy here and going to the short ovals is completely different technique or approach you needed. So those sort of things, Jimmy gave me little tips all the time.
And of course, Bobby. Bobby, he's, how can I say? Instant expression or the think of changing strategy or just the feeling how we bring it like a car now with really impressive car during the course of the race weekend. That was something I experienced never before. And it was quite, quite -- how can I say -- fun to watch as well as impressive. So he made such a fantastic coach over the course of the season. Many, many times. And he tried to tie up everything together because he was coming back, you know, his team. And that was the first year with DW12 and a lot of people to work with. It was a difficult year for Bobby last year, for sure. But we showed such a performance race by race, so that was very impressive.
Today, A.J., it's different really. He hasn't actually given me any advice yet, to be honest, strictly speaking. But I just told the other day when I was interviewed, we share some view quite often and that's not really -- how can I say -- need to translate by words and by words. We know it; we know what we want. And that's good. I've got someone in the top of the team is knowing what the business in the cockpit, what I want to do, he already knew it. So he prepared for the team for it to lead to that way. That's really helping for me so that I don't have to tell this is what we do, this is what we need. I don't have to tell them. So that's really, really good. Just the team's, the way we're looking is exactly the same point. So that's one of the strengths, communication has been surprisingly is really, really good in a short amount of time.
Q: Takuma, earlier in your career before you arrived in America, you did Formula One. I can't remember the year, but you had a front-row position with Michael Schumacher at the Nurburgring.
Q: Must be 2004, 2005?
SATO: 2004, yes.
Q: He made a very big compliment about you at the local TV station at the Nurburgring, and then after that you had a bad season with the (Aguri) Suzuki team, which I seen more or less entered modified aeros. Do you think in Formula One you still have unfinished business and you want to go back one day?
SATO: Wow. It's tough one because the day unfortunately, sadly Super Aguri team has to pull out for financial reason. It was really sad moment for everyone, for the sport and for the team and for the members, and of course we lost the drive seat, too, driver seat, too. But for me, like you said, it was unfinished job in F1 for me. So I tried to come back in F1 for nearly two seasons. One and a half seasons I spent to have a chance. Now, I had a huge opportunity with Toro Rosso Racing team that gave me, thanks obviously to Red Bull, great opportunity that we succeed so much winter testing, but unfortunately at the end of the day with some reason that didn't happen; that was a really shocking moment. Then after that, as well, I had a little opportunity but just didn't happen.
The way it happened in F1 is just beyond your control. Something is just very little things you can do about it. But the fact was that I wasn't chosen for it, so that was the day that, OK, Formula One is Formula One; it's great. But then Formula One isn't only the racing. And of course, you know, I always interested in Indy all the time. So that's why I had a great opportunity to come here with Jimmy.
Since then my focus is hundred percent in Indy. And my first focus is to win the first -- the racing here and to win the '500' and win the championship. All sort of growing up a lot of momentum and a lot of -- how can I say -- the target that I want to do. And still I'm on the way, and I just achieved just one first win and the stepping, you know, stepping up the stair.
So for me my whole focus is Indy now hundred percent. And of course, you know, F1 was great, but then I don't think it's for me, it's a job to be done right now. I think job to be done is here this two weeks of the '500' and the championship, so on and so on. So I'm really happy where I am. Really happy place with A.J. Foyt Racing team and looking for the long future in IndyCar.
Q: Takuma, it's been about a decade and a half since A.J. has won here with Kenny Brack here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. What do you think it would mean for him to win the '500,' and have you had a chance to sit down and talk with him about his four wins and how it was different back then compared to how difficult it is today to win this prestigious race?
SATO: Sure. I think by any team and any person winning '500' would be so special. And I think but doing that with A.J., I can't imagine how he's going to be. It's going to be really, really huge moment for the team and for himself and myself. So -- but we're here for it. We are here aiming to win the '500.' So there is no reason why we cannot. We've been showing solid performance on the last two days in testing, and hopefully we continue the progress, and hopefully we'll be competitive. But out there, it's so competitive and the last four events it was successful for us, it doesn't necessarily translate to the oval because just completely new environment.
So we are OK, we are set to mind and come here with a clean sheet of paper. What we can do from last year, they had quite good car developing how it can be fast and how it can be strong. So that's the way we're doing that. Now, of course, winning, I was so close last year. Knowing that now how to get there, what you need there, so it's been a tremendous experience last year to hopefully I can translate it to, you know, translating to this year's performance. Hopefully we'll be smiling after that.
But I really just cannot say any more than that because I don't know how we feel, you know, if we win the '500.' But I think, as I talked a little while ago, A.J. and I talking, chatting quite a bit. Not necessarily for especially for the racing contents, but I had a chance to spend some time with him over the winter while we did boasting for the PR promotion for the sponsor. And we talk about everything and just the time to share, he joke about it all the time, most of the time. And he sometimes come back to his racing day that it was like that. I think he was quite fun to hear it because his time was so different, and particularly for the '500' winning was so special. You go to the museum and they show his old winning cars, and, you know, and there was a picture hanging on the wall. It was history, and I'm really, really keen to hear the story over the next two weeks that we share a lot of days.
So, yeah, I'm looking forward to the story for it, for sure.
Q: Obviously last year you showed that you would go for it. You know how to go for it. A.J. said that you've also talked about if it's a 10th-place car, not to go for it. How does Takuma Sato know when it's time to go for it?
SATO: The only time will tell, and only the result will tell. So I'm not going to say I do it or do it not. But you can predict the last four events I finish every race, whether it was winning, whether it was 14 place, I don't remember. We had some difficult time at the first two races, some issues and doing racing, mechanical problems, pit stop issues, we fell off from the front row to some other place.
But every time we finished and strongly, I think, strong comeback, shall we say. To me it just never give up. Even St. Pete, we dropped back in 12 and fighting back to eighth place until the very last place I took Justin Wilson. So every point is counting. Maybe physically the point is not necessarily to put your -- putting your risk management for it, but I go for it because I was confident I could do the job. And we did.
So I think now, you know, I've got enough experience to judge when the car's in third-quickest and probably finishing third is important as well as you're committed. But when there is a chance, then I never back off. So hopefully, hopefully the '500' and the rest of the season we're counting the same, and hopefully we keep the championship lead for it.
MODERATOR: Takuma, thank you very much for coming in. And good luck.
SATO: OK, thank you.