Could runner-up finish at Detroit start turnaround for Sato?

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Last season and the first seven races of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season have taken Takuma Sato on quite a roller-coaster ride.

In other words and in most cases, it’s been a story of one week up, and usually the next week down.

But it took rain, a crazy weekend and a twisting road course in the eighth race of 2015 to bring out some of the best in Sato on Sunday in the 2015 Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit No. 2, as the A.J. Foyt Racing driver finished a close second to winner Sebastien Bourdais.

“It was real close,” Sato said of the finish. “But I think we done most of what we could today, come back from the middle of the pack to finishing strong.”

It was Sato’s best finish since a runner-up showing more than two years ago at Sao Paulo, Brazil. His previous best finish this season was ninth in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis last month.

“I’m really pleased to be back in here on the podium,” Sato said after Sunday’s race. “Yes, it was long and exciting. To be honest, it was crazy race for two days.”

And the height of craziness came late in Sunday’s race, when the red flag fell for a major crash. Then, as cleanup took place, IndyCar officials converted the race from a distance event to a timed finish.

Think of it as IndyCar’s version of a green-white-checkered event, as there were only three laps run before the checkered flag fell, with Bourdais finishing first and Sato right behind him.

Bourdais essentially doing a stutter step on the restart, which jammed up the rest of the pack, caused concern among drivers, including Sato.

“Obviously I wanted to win the race, but I think Sebastien restart (on Lap 66) was a little tricky. That really caught out Montoya, too. We should do steady acceleration from last corner. We all had to brake, which is not really what we talk about for the briefing.

“I leave it to IndyCar’s call for the regulations. But nevertheless, Seb did a good job of holding off. I try to go for the win for the rest of the season, of course.”

Once the pack finally got going, Sato did everything he could to catch and pass Bourdais, but the latter just had a better run in the closing laps.

“To be honest, it was difficult,” Sato said. “The restart was a great chance. Once get into the rhythm, I think he had a really fast car today, so he really – how can I say – has got a winner.

“I tried to catch him, try to overtake him. I had one chance on the back straight to come to white flag. Into turn seven it’s tricky. … If completely dry, I would commit to go side-by-side. But it was too risky. Obviously he did the holding line really well.

“I really disagree on his restart manipulation technique. Obviously other than that, he’s done everything he could. He’s the real winner today. (It’s a) shame, but I try next time.”

And there was one other consolation Sato could take: “No Penske, Ganassi on the podium,” he said. They’re the big teams, tough to beat. But I think, as I said, nothing is impossible. This is part of this great sport to give opportunity. I really love it.”

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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.