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.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.