IndyCar 2016 driver review: Takuma Sato

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series with 17th-placed Takuma Sato, driver of the flagship No. 14 car for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Takuma Sato, No. 14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda

  • 2015: 14th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 1 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 46 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 13.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 17th Place, Best Finish 5th, Best Start 3rd, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 14.1 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish

Seven seasons, seven finishes between 13th and 21st in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, so 17th seemed about par for the course for Takuma Sato once again in 2016, this now his fourth season in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

I’ve written before that the worst thing you can be in IndyCar is anonymous, and for a driver who’s usually catching eyeballs either with dynamic passes, or accidents that come from his classic “No attack, no chance” style, Sato is rarely a driver that blends into the scenery – but this year, strangely, he did. More so this year than in his three previous with Foyt, where Sato struggled this year was that he didn’t have his usual two or three “did you see where he came from?!?” performances that stood up and made the paddock take notice.

Long Beach was his best overall weekend, qualifying eighth and finishing fifth as the only driver really hassling the Team Penske crew and Scott Dixon that weekend. His luck was split in Toronto and Mid-Ohio; he went 20th to fifth at the former purely on strategy, and was poised to do likewise at the latter before Sebastien Bourdais knocked him off course there, which dropped him to ninth at the checkered flag.

There were other missed opportunities: at the Indianapolis 500, with a possible top-five or top-six finish going begging after he hit the Turn 4 wall to bring out the final yellow. After a season-best third place qualifying effort in Pocono, the wind caused a first lap crash in the tricky Turn 3. Then at Watkins Glen, he seemed to have a podium within reach on fuel mileage before spinning in the final laps.

Three DNFs on the whole was his fewest in four seasons with Foyt, but when other Honda teams seemed to take a bit of a performance leap, Foyt didn’t. Although he had a better qualifying average than teammate Jack Hawksworth (14.1 to 15.3), the two split their head-to-head qualifying results 8-8. Sato also failed to lead a single lap this year, and that’s the first time that’s happened since his rookie year in 2010.

The usual line here with Sato still applies: Great guy, fearless driver, brings a huge Japanese contingent of supporters to the track all year … but in this field, the combination of Sato and Foyt have not moved as far forward as you would have hoped by now. The 14th in points last year is now the outlier, with 17th, 18th, and 17th in the other three years.