Sato heads to Texas keen to get a big result on A.J. Foyt’s home soil

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Much like teammate Jack Hawksworth, Takuma Sato’s season results haven’t shown the improved performance from he and his A.J. Foyt Enterprises team.

Sato heads to Texas Motor Speedway this week (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) a perhaps misleading 16th in Verizon IndyCar Series points in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda.

He’s finished from fifth through 13th in five of the eight races in the first half of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, but his accident at the Indianapolis 500 while running in a top-10 position, scraping the wall out of Turn 4, resigned him to a 26th place finish in the double points race.

Then finishes of 11th and 10th in Detroit were, like Alexander Rossi’s 10th and 12th places, decent but perhaps not what they hoped for. Especially as after results of sixth in St. Petersburg and fifth in Long Beach, Sato and the Foyt team were carrying Honda in the early portion of the season.

“Expectations was higher to be honest, yes,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s simply because our season started so strong at St. Petersburg and Long Beach. Both we were very strong. Last year, Detroit, obviously we had the podium finish, and we were leading the race in the wet.

“Detroit is usually a good venue for me. But after first practice we realized the field is so competitive. If we’re not in the ballpark, it’s so difficult to catch up. The group I was in was very competitive. We couldn’t manage very well on the red tire, its very tricky to use. We missed some little things and the field is so competitive. So it’s difficult circumstances. A top-10 was good, but overall, we felt disappointed.”

Sato said of the season so far that it’s been a learning process. Consider the fact like Hawksworth, Sato too had a preseason engineering change with Raul Prados moving over from the No. 41 car to Sato’s No. 14, and Don Halliday shifted into the technical director role at the team. Hawksworth’s had two changes, first Dan Hobbs and now Daniele Cucchiaroni serving as his engineer.

“The team has put the best priority forward for team performance,” Sato explained. “It’s absolutely vital to work all together, everyone. We’ve had similar engineering changes into the season then during the season! But as a result, it’s been better for the performance. I have no problem with that.

“The consistency is always something to get better. If you have the potential, grab it. Larry Foyt tries to put everything the best time and right place. It’s not an easy job! But I support the team. We’re working it best with what we have right now. We’re working to continue the improvement.”

Plus consider the fact Foyt’s team has two bases – Houston and Indianapolis. For the month of May, Foyt is one of only three teams that isn’t primarily Indianapolis-based (Penske, Coyne the others) and that means a lot of hotel time.

“Logistics-wise, yes, it’s a difficult time for us – or perhaps a disadvantage for the Indy 500 surrounding time,” Sato explained. “Once the whole team departs Houston, we’re not able to go back for the month. Now they are, after Detroit, where the mechanics are working in Houston and drive to Texas from there. I guess we just need to prepare well.

“The garages at IMS are great, we didn’t have anything to worry about there. The mechanics basically built the car up in advance. Before Detroit, we depart from IMS. It works OK other than not being able to go home for the month.”

Perhaps ironically, given the Indy preparation, Sato and the Foyt team heads into the Waller, Texas-team’s home race not having tested at Texas Motor Speedway with the domed skids.

While this will make the race a challenge, Sato is still keen to get a big result at a track he enjoys driving but has been unlucky from a results standpoint (fifth in 2011 his best finish in seven past Texas starts).

“Unfortunately we didn’t get to test, and there were only a couple teams that didn’t go,” Sato said. “But that was all because we had to prepare the three cars for Indy 500 and Indy GP. I wish we could go! We did so much stuff at Indy. The package will be a little different for Texas. HPD should give us a competitive package.

“It’s certainly a great time for us coming forward. After the 500, it’s Texas and Wisconsin, which are the next big races for us. We have great support from ABC Supply. The fans have long waited for Road America – and so do we! We’re very happy to go back.

“I don’t mind all the consecutive race weekends. Particularly for Texas. It’s a home race. The team members, families and friends, and of course A.J. is happy to have Texas race. Hopefully a competitive weekend.

“The field is super competitive, super tight. We’ve seen it for many years on ovals. Street course or road courses now, it’s one or two tenths, but that’s how IndyCar should be. That’s what the fans love.

“Texas will be a big challenge since we didn’t test. But we have a good package for the speedway. I’m really excited to go back there again. It hasn’t been a venue that’s quite kind to me, but it has great banking and great racing.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III