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