Long Beach winner Takuma Sato charged from 25th to a third-place podium finish last year in Sao Paulo for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, and he’ll be out to replicate or improve upon that solid result tomorrow in Brazil for A.J. Foyt Racing.
However, he battled through a tough day of qualifying on Saturday and will have to go off from the 12th position alongside Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand after failing to advance out of the second round.
“A difficult day for us,” said Sato, who logged nearly 13,000 air miles while flying from his hometown of Tokyo, Japan to Sao Paulo for Sunday’s race (11 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network). “We couldn’t pick up the good speed and balance. We lost something. It was very difficult to get it all put together. It’s a shame. The guys have been working very hard but we just couldn’t find the good grip and balance.
“Tonight, we’ll review everything and hopefully we’ll find improvements for the race.”
Sato started off Saturday well, posting the fifth-fastest time in his first-round group. However, Round 2 saw the ex-Formula 1 driver only able to climb to a 1 minute, 21.36 second lap in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda. The result sticks him near the mid-pack and, potentially, in the path of trouble if the race has a dodgy start.
But should he keep his nose clean, Sato feels confident that he can make his way up the pylon at a track that he enjoys.
“It’s quite a unique track, I think,” he said going into the weekend. “It has one of the longest straightaways in the series and it’s followed by a tight hairpin, which requires heavy braking — and that means there are always lots of overtaking opportunities.
“It’s seriously bumpy on the straightaway but otherwise straightforward as the back sections of track are a good combination of slow, technical corners with a relatively smooth surface. I like the rhythm of this track.”