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.

F1: Red Bull Racing confirms switch to Honda engines next season

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Honda will become Red Bull’s engine supplier from next season after the Formula One team confirmed its anticipated split with Renault on Tuesday.

The Japanese manufacturer will supply engines for 2019 and 2020, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed the deal as “an exciting new phase” in the bid to return to the top of F1.

“After careful consideration and evaluation, we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team,” Horner said in a team statement. “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our (feeder) team Toro Rosso.”

It is a boost for Honda, which was unceremoniously dumped by McLaren at the end of last year.

Honda has started this season brightly as engine provider for Toro Rosso, and this may have been a key factor in Red Bull finally ditching Renault.

“Honda’s alignment with both Red Bull Formula One teams provides enormous potential,” Horner said. “Honda will have access to a wealth of data from both outfits, with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing leading the way, and the opportunities for faster, more effective and more competitive development are doubled.”

The deal brings to an end Red Bull’s 12-year partnership with Renault.

Although relations became increasingly strained between the two parties in recent years, it was once a dream partnership as Red Bull and Renault won four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel from 2010-13.

During that glory era, Vettel and teammate Mark Webber won 47 grand prix. Since 2013, results have somewhat dried up and there have been only 10 race wins.

“We have sometimes had our differences but Renault has always worked tirelessly and to the best of its ability to provide us with a competitive power unit,” Horner said.

He was not always quite so complimentary about Renault. He has regularly and publicly criticized Renault’s reliability in recent years – although it has been hard to judge sometimes.

Red Bull showed good speed toward the end of last season when Max Verstappen won two races, and teammate Daniel Ricciardo won this season’s Chinese GP with a brilliant drive. The difference in speed between Red Bull and Mercedes appears less than before, although Ferrari remains noticeably quicker.

Verstappen’s form has picked up after a poor start to 2018, marred by crashes, and he has taken third place in two of the past three races.

Meanwhile, McLaren’s partnership with Renault has not been as successful as they anticipated after dropping Honda following three fruitless seasons together.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso has failed to finish the past two races and has yet to place higher than fifth. Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg has a best finish of fourth place.