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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.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.