In an effort to jolt some life into his IZOD IndyCar Series team that hadn’t won a race since 2002, A.J. Foyt Racing team director Larry Foyt brought in the aggressive Takuma Sato to take over their No. 14 ABC Supply Honda — with the approval of his father, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, naturally.
Some wondered if the right call had been made in hiring Sato, the ex-Formula One driver that had gained a double-edged reputation for being exciting to watch and for being crash-prone. But to hear Larry tell it, the connection was immediate between the Japanese racer and the little team from Waller, Texas.
“We knew he was fast, [but] until you really know somebody, you don’t know how you’re going to work together and how it’s going to be,” Larry said on Sunday. “It was great — our first working relationship was a seven-day Caribbean cruise. We’ve been good friends ever since.
“…I really think between our chief engineer, Don Halliday, and Takuma, there was a lot of trust there, which you have to have. It’s been great. Like Takuma said, the speed has been there. Little issues can always bite you. Our junior engineer kept telling us, ‘We don’t have to be the biggest team to win.’ There can be positives to being a smaller team and a tight-knit group.”
It appears that such an atmosphere seems to suit Sato, who snapped A.J. Foyt Racing’s long dry spell with a dominant victory at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It’s a win that’s sure to resonate with many, from those that love the underdogs to Sato’s veritable army of fans in his homeland of Japan — a country still trying to recover from the devastating natural disasters of two years ago.
“People are still on the way back — 300,000 people still don’t have a home and have temporary living,” said Sato, who led IndyCar’s efforts to help those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. “This hopefully is good news to cheer them up and hopefully, this is just a start to bring more IndyCar excitement and enthusiasm to Japanese fans.”
And what did A.J. have to say about the breakthrough? He was back in the Lone Star State, preparing for surgery next week to relieve sciatica. However, he was eagerly watching the action unfold on TV.
“The last five laps were the longest of anything,” A.J. told Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star. “We’ve had a lot of drivers; none of them wanted to win.
“This boy [Sato] wants to win.”
It’s safe to say that the Foyts have made the right call after all.