IndyCar: Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt Racing are in serious need of a luck shift

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For the second straight Verizon IndyCar Series season, Takuma Sato and the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda team are in serious need of a luck turnaround.

Sato has not been able to buy a break in the last seven races, starting with the Indianapolis 500. Through almost no fault of his own, Sato has been the victim of circumstances since the opening oval race of the season.

At Indy, Sato was in a top-five position late before an unscheduled late pit stop to help remove debris trapped under his undertray following Scott Dixon’s accident. In Detroit, Sato had a target on his back with a gearbox issue in Race 1 and contact from both Ryan Briscoe and Marco Andretti in Race 2, despite scoring the pole position.

Texas was no kinder to the Houston-based A.J. Foyt Enterprises operation. A power loss with just seven laps to go ended his race at Texas Motor Speedway. In the Houston doubleheader, Sato was worth the price of admission on his own in the wet Race 1 before contact from the lapped Mikhail Aleshin took them both out, which led to an irate – if vintage – Foyt interview with NBCSN’s Robin Miller. Race 2 was no better with Andretti contacting him again, and slight contact later in the race taking him out.

At Pocono, Sato again qualified well – fourth – but retired early due to electrical gremlins.

“It’s a disappointing finish,” Sato said after Pocono. “We had the speed but we had a failure in the very early stages of the race. We couldn’t figure it out [in time to rejoin the race without losing many laps] so that’s why we didn’t go back out.”

So in the last seven races, this has been the run of finishes: 19, 18, 18, 18, 22, 19, 22. That seven-race string has dropped Sato from 12th to 21st in points, last among full-time entries.

It nearly mirrors a run of misery he endured last year, when from Iowa through Baltimore Sato’s finishes were: 23, 22, 24, 20, 22, 23, 24. In that run of seven races, Sato again had four mechanical failures that took him out, and a sole race finish of 22nd at Mid-Ohio.

Perhaps Iowa can provide the turning point. Although Sato is yet to score a top-10 finish there in four starts (best result of 12th in 2012), he is a past polesitter (2011) and renowned as one of the most exciting drivers to watch on the short ovals. He nearly won at Milwaukee last year and if the setup’s right, look for Sato to have the speed to contend on the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway.

He and the No. 14 team just need the luck to match.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”