Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Partnership paying off for Sato, Foyt Racing

1 Comment
This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

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 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing sixth in 2015 after a late rally was Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 6th Place, 3 Wins, 1 Pole, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 195 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish

The old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” would probably be the best way to sum up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2015 season, which until the final quarter of season could best be described as a forgettable nightmare.

The first three races seemed somewhat OK, with eighth, seventh and fourth place grid spots. But none of the three produced a result of note; Hunter-Reay was also caught up in the three-car, late race accident at NOLA Motorsports Park and didn’t bank any good finish until a fifth place at Barber the end of April.

A tailspin followed. Hunter-Reay started between 14th and 21st every race between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Milwaukee – a stretch of eight races – and only had one top-10 finish in that stint, eighth at the rain-affected lottery that was Detroit race two. Some seasons are just ones you want to end and by Milwaukee it was obvious that Hunter-Reay was racing just to get to the end of the year, without things getting any worse.

Things finally came good with a typically good drive at Iowa and arguably one of the drives of his career, two races later at Pocono, to end with two wins and extend his streak of winning a race in each of his six seasons at Andretti Autosport. It was no coincidence, either, that Hunter-Reay’s uptick in form came with the return of the late Justin Wilson’s presence in a fourth car.

After Pocono, Hunter-Reay also drove well to finish second at Sonoma, and by that point he’d completed an incredible late-season turnaround to jump from 14th to sixth in points. But if asked, he’d probably admit this was his toughest season yet at Andretti and arguably his toughest overall since his 2009 season, when he was in-between full-time rides and saw out the year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.