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.

IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”