Sato looks for more Sao Paulo success

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Long Beach winner Takuma Sato charged from 25th to a third-place podium finish last year in Sao Paulo for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, and he’ll be out to replicate or improve upon that solid result tomorrow in Brazil for A.J. Foyt Racing.

However, he battled through a tough day of qualifying on Saturday and will have to go off from the 12th position alongside Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand after failing to advance out of the second round.

“A difficult day for us,” said Sato, who logged nearly 13,000 air miles while flying from his hometown of Tokyo, Japan to Sao Paulo for Sunday’s race (11 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network). “We couldn’t pick up the good speed and balance. We lost something.  It was very difficult to get it all put together. It’s a shame. The guys have been working very hard but we just couldn’t find the good grip and balance.

“Tonight, we’ll review everything and hopefully we’ll find improvements for the race.”

Sato started off Saturday well, posting the fifth-fastest time in his first-round group. However, Round 2 saw the ex-Formula 1 driver only able to climb to a 1 minute, 21.36 second lap in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda. The result sticks him near the mid-pack and, potentially, in the path of trouble if the race has a dodgy start.

But should he keep his nose clean, Sato feels confident that he can make his way up the pylon at a track that he enjoys.

It’s quite a unique track, I think,” he said going into the weekend. “It has one of the longest straightaways in the series and it’s followed by a tight hairpin, which requires heavy braking — and that means there are always lots of overtaking opportunities.

“It’s seriously bumpy on the straightaway but otherwise straightforward as the back sections of track are a good combination of slow, technical corners with a relatively smooth surface. I like the rhythm of this track.”

Watch tomorrow’s Sao Paulo Indy 300 online and on your mobile device.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.