IndyCar: Takuma Sato hopes to generate good from bad race at Mid-Ohio

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Hopefully for Takuma Sato, his 101st IndyCar start next week at Pocono ends better than his milestone 100th start this past Sunday at Mid-Ohio.

The Tokyo native and A.J. Foyt Racing driver came into Sunday’s event amidst great fanfare.

More than two dozen members of his fan club – many wearing hats commemorating their favorite driver’s achievement – flew all the way from Tokyo to join him at Mid-Ohio.

The night before the race, the driver and his fans dined together on “Sato Pork Chops, flank steak and Key Lime pie.

“I just appreciate many things, especially the people who helped me to get where I am today,” Sato said before Sunday’s race. “It is wonderful to be able to keep doing what you want, so the 100th race will be a great memory, but it’s just a milestone so I will keep on going.”

Even his mother, Akiko, was on hand for the celebration.

“When I go to the races, I go not only as a mother but as one of Taku’s fans,” she said through an interpreter. “I’m happy he continues to pursue his dreams. He had a very strong wish for racing and worked very hard to get where he is today.”

Unfortunately, the celebration ended on a sour note when Sato retired after 60 laps due to contact with another car and then his car later going off course. He finished last in the 24-car field.

“A very disappointing race,” Sato said. “Unfortunately we had an incident with (Stefano) Coletti, who tried to overtake me and clipped my rear wing and damaged it.

“We had to come back to replace the entire rear assembly. Something happened and it took too long, so we went down a couple laps. It’s very difficult to recover from that. In the end we ran wide, went off track and damaged the rear bumper, and we had to retire.”

Admittedly, it’s been a struggle of late for Sato. Since finishing runner-up at Belle Isle 2 in late May, he’s had just one top-10 finish in the last six races. Sunday’s last-place finish was his worst of the season.

“Very disappointing but hopefully we will be strong in the last two races,” he said.

But as bad as the race was for Sato, there’s still a silver lining – and some good that will come out of it.

Sato had a special race helmet designed for the weekend that commemorated his first race “Sao Paulo 001” in 2010 and his most recent, “Mid-Ohio 100.”

In addition, there were outlines of every IndyCar track Sato has competed upon, including a star to commemorate his 2013 win at Long Beach.

The helmet he wore in the race and another helmet worn in practice and qualifying will soon be auctioned off to benefit Sato’s charity, “With You Japan,” which raises money to help needy children in Japan, as well as those still recovering from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Plans are still in the works, but information on how to bid and more information on the helmets will soon be found on his web site, TakumaSato.com.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).