Partnership paying off for Sato, Foyt Racing

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In an effort to jolt some life into his IZOD IndyCar Series team that hadn’t won a race since 2002, A.J. Foyt Racing team director Larry Foyt brought in the aggressive Takuma Sato to take over their No. 14 ABC Supply Honda — with the approval of his father, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, naturally.

Some wondered if the right call had been made in hiring Sato, the ex-Formula One driver that had gained a double-edged reputation for being exciting to watch and for being crash-prone. But to hear Larry tell it, the connection was immediate between the Japanese racer and the little team from Waller, Texas.

“We knew he was fast, [but] until you really know somebody, you don’t know how you’re going to work together and how it’s going to be,” Larry said on Sunday. “It was great — our first working relationship was a seven-day Caribbean cruise.  We’ve been good friends ever since.

“…I really think between our chief engineer, Don Halliday, and Takuma, there was a lot of trust there, which you have to have. It’s been great. Like Takuma said, the speed has been there. Little issues can always bite you. Our junior engineer kept telling us, ‘We don’t have to be the biggest team to win.’  There can be positives to being a smaller team and a tight-knit group.”

It appears that such an atmosphere seems to suit Sato, who snapped A.J. Foyt Racing’s long dry spell with a dominant victory at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It’s a win that’s sure to resonate with many, from those that love the underdogs to Sato’s veritable army of fans in his homeland of Japan — a country still trying to recover from the devastating natural disasters of two years ago.

“People are still on the way back — 300,000 people still don’t have a home and have temporary living,” said Sato, who led IndyCar’s efforts to help those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. “This hopefully is good news to cheer them up and hopefully, this is just a start to bring more IndyCar excitement and enthusiasm to Japanese fans.”

And what did A.J. have to say about the breakthrough? He was back in the Lone Star State, preparing for surgery next week to relieve sciatica. However, he was eagerly watching the action unfold on TV.

“The last five laps were the longest of anything,” A.J. told Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star. “We’ve had a lot of drivers; none of them wanted to win.

“This boy [Sato] wants to win.”

It’s safe to say that the Foyts have made the right call after all.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.