IndyCar prospects take on the Brickyard in Freedom 100

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Friday’s Freedom 100 for the Firestone Indy Lights (Noon ET, NBC Sports Network) will feature only 11 cars on the starting grid, but there’s still racing’s ultimate form of bragging rights on the line: Victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Headlining the Freedom 100 field is Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz (pictured), who is also on the front row for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in a fifth Andretti car. Munoz currently leads the FIL points and will seek to become the fourth driver to compete in both the 100 and the 500 on the same weekend (Sebastian Saavedra, Marty Roth, Jeff Simmons).

But Munoz will likely have to go through the four Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers — Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam, Jack Hawksworth and Indiana’s own Kyle O’Gara — in order to win his first race of the weekend. Sam Schmidt’s FIL operation is the series’ resident dynasty, and in the Freedom 100, the team has won an astonishing seven times with six different drivers since the race’s inception in 2003.

It will be interesting to see how the six rookie drivers in the field fare against the world-famous Brickyard. Lights drivers and teams will only have one day of practice and qualifying tomorrow before going into the 40-lap race on Friday for Carb Day. All six rookies are making their first start at Indy, and O’Gara and fellow Hoosier Jimmy Simpson are making their first Lights start altogether.

Also in the field is Chase Austin, who was announced last year as the driver for a second A.J. Foyt Racing machine in this year’s “500.” That ride did not pan out due to a lack of funds, but Austin is still here at the Brickyard for a third consecutive year.

FIRESTONE FREEDOM 100
Entry List

2-Juan Pablo Garcia, Team Moore Racing

4-Jorge Goncalvez, Belardi Auto Racing

5-Peter Dempsey, Belardi Auto Racing

7-Gabby Chaves, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

8-Sage Karam, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

12-Zach Veach, Andretti Autosport

22-Jimmy Simpson, Team Moore Racing

26-Carlos Munoz, Andretti Autosport

28-Chase Austin, Jeffrey Mark Motorsport/BHA w/Curb-Agajanian

67-Kyle O’Gara, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

77-Jack Hawksworth, Schmidt Peterson w/Curb-Agajanian

Watch Friday’s Indianapolis 500 Carb Day (11 a.m. ET) online or on your mobile device.

Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato welcomes ‘Baby Borg’ to the family

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
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Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.

The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.

Try putting that on a mantle in your house.

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.

“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.

“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”

Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.

And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.

“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.

“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.

“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”

Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.

Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.

“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Michael Andretti celebrates his 5 Indy 500 wins as a team owner, and Takuma Sato celebrates his first Indy 500 win
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.

“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.

Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.

It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.

Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.

“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.

“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.

“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”