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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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”