Sato seeks momentum rebound in Milwaukee

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It was about as good a start to a new relationship as was possible. Takuma Sato’s first four races with A.J. Foyt Racing yielded his first career win (Long Beach) and the team’s first since 2002, a second podium at Brazil albeit one where he lost the lead in the last turn, two Firestone Fast Six appearances and the points lead.

Then the month of May happened, and Sato’s fortunes in the IZOD IndyCar Series have changed.

A nondescript Indianapolis 500 saw Sato unable to repeat the heroics of a year ago, when his famous passing attempt for the win on Dario Franchitti ended against the Turn 1 wall. He finished an unlucky 13th, at least managing to recover from a spin early in the race. Then he was taken out in back-to-back races in Detroit, and fought his car to 11th at Texas.

The poor string of results has dropped Sato to a tie for fifth in the points standings, now 65 behind championship leader Helio Castroneves. It has not, however, dampened his confidence.

“We all wish we could have had a better last few races, but unfortunately we had some unlucky situations where we couldn’t achieve them,” Sato said at a lunch Wednesday ahead of this week’s Milwaukee IndyFest. “We do have a good package and need to be able to catch up. Hopefully we can now achieve the second win.”

It’s a big weekend for Sato from three standpoints at the tricky Milwaukee Mile. He needs a result, the team’s setup at this track has been off slightly in years past (Paul Tracy hung on for dear life in 2009), and it’s the home race for Foyt’s primary sponsor ABC Supply Co. Some 900 guests of the company are expected on race day.

Sato relates the challenge of driving the track first, as it’s so unique on the calendar.

“It’s an oval, but it’s pretty much a high speed road course and with no banking support!” he said. “Well some, but almost zero. We’re not going very fast here because of the road course package. For the drivers, it’s a great challenge. You actually have to drive a lot, wall-to-wall. You feel the cars sliding, and sometimes need the brakes. It’s a great challenge.”

The driving is a challenge, but probably wasn’t as much of a challenge as handling drink orders on Wednesday night at the Miller Time Pub in downtown Milwaukee. Along with James Hinchcliffe, Ed Carpenter and NBC Sports Network’s Will Buxton, Sato served as a celebrity bartender for the assembled crowd. Tips were donations to Racing for Kids and the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

‘Still quite early’ for Ricciardo to think about Red Bull F1 future

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Daniel Ricciardo feels it is “still quite early” to make a decision about his Red Bull Formula 1 future despite seeing teammate Max Verstappen announce on Friday he would be staying with the team until 2020.

Verstappen, 20, put pen to paper on an enhanced F1 contract with Red Bull, with his previous deal due to expire at the end of next season in parallel to Ricciardo’s own agreement.

Ricciardo was asked following practice on Friday why he is yet to strike a new deal for himself with Red Bull, and explained he is in no rush to make a final decision when he has over a year to run on his current contract.

“It’s not that I’ve said no to anything. It’s just still quite early I think,” Ricciardo explained.

“People talked a little bit about contracts and the silly season for next year, but I thought that would still happen next year. It’s still quite early.

“If I’m to try and extract some positives out of his news it’s that it gives us good confidence for next year. He and his management see a lot of positives in the team to continue like that.

“I’m 100 per cent here next year, I can at least say that, and I think it gives both of us confidence that we’ll keep progressing the way we are.”

Red Bull said upon announcing Verstappen’s new deal that it wants to “build a team around him”, with the 20-year-old standing out as a once-in-a-generation talent.

The focus surrounding Verstappen has not left Ricciardo feeling as though he is in the shade or in any way playing second-fiddle to the Dutchman, stressing he has no internal concerns at Red Bull.

“For sure, as far as media goes, he certainly gets a lot of attention. He’s broken records for his age and things like that, so rightly so,” Ricciardo said.

“Take the media out of it, as far as inside the team, new parts on the car, things like this, there’s always been parity and equality.”

Verstappen is only the third driver to commit to a deal beyond the end of next season, following Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari and Fernando Alonso at McLaren on multi-year contracts.

All 10 F1 teams have at least one free seat for 2019, making Ricciardo a possible candidate for seats with either Mercedes or Ferrari were he to consider a move away from Red Bull.

Speaking to British broadcaster Sky Sports, Red Bull F1 advisor Helmut Marko said he felt Ricciardo was “putting himself on the market” by waiting to make a decision on his future, but that talks would take place when possible.