Yesterday, the IZOD IndyCar series drivers spread out across the US to promote the Indianapolis 500 in various key markets. Lucky for me, Takuma Sato was in Houston promoting the 500 as well as the Grand Prix of Houston that will be October 4-6 at Reliant Park. Takuma drives for AJ Foyt Racing which is located just outside of Houston, so the GPoH will be the team’s hometown race.
The media and fan event took place at Reliant Park in front of Reliant Arena…the site of the start/finish line of the race. Strangely enough, the old start/finish line from the Champ Car days and faded “Champ Car” paint are clearly visible on the concrete. In the distance, the concrete barriers that will make up the walls of the track line the perimeter of the parking lot. Some barriers still had the names of former Champ Car drivers that participated in the final event in 2007 like Neel Jani, Alex Figge, and Ryan Dalziel.
MSR Houston, the road and karting tracks located south of Houston near Angleton, had setup a karting track and had karts on hand. Fans were able to race, and local media, including yours truly, were pitted against Takuma in one final kart race. Who won?
I did of course! I almost lapped everyone in 5 laps. Ok, so it wasn’t necessarily a fair fight. Takuma started in the back. I started up front. But hey, I have the bragging rights, right?
It was a great event, and I also had the chance to chat with Takuma for a few minutes. Here’s the interview:
RB: So, after last year, what’s your strategy going into the 500? Is it still “attack”?
TS: Yes, of course, any circumstance…if there’s any chance you should challenge it. Having had the experience last year, I know what you need to get to the last lap and the environment to get the team leading the race. This has been much more…comfortable…day by day in practice. Obviously, we were a little bit disappointed in the qualifying speed, but the race is a completely different scenario. There’s nothing to worry about.
RB: How has it been having Conor Daly as a teammate? Have you worked together or have you spent more time helping him?
TS: Either way really…we had to help him up after the spin and get him quality data. Having a teammate is very helpful. You don’t have to go through all the test program…we can split the program. He is coming up to speed very quickly and I can trust his data. It’s been nice to work with him.
RB: How important is the momentum that you have heading into Indy?
TS: It helps. It is important to help the team’s motivation and keep it high. But, everything has to be reset…it’s a clean sheet of paper. Obviously the Indy 500 is a very different situation from the last 4 events. So, the team is working together…it’s a very tight group…it’s based on trust and ability…there’s no reason to believe we can’t do the same on the ovals too. To me, it is very important to carry the excitement and momentum into the 500.
RB: When the boost was upped for qualifying, the Chevy’s had an advantage. Do you believe when the boost is lowered it will be evened out? It’s been difficult to discern from practice times up to this point.
TS: We will see. It seems like the trend is similar to last year. With the higher boost, it seems they (Chevy) had little tip on that. This year the increase in speed from both manufactures has been huge. We both really developed and are competing at the highest level. As you said, Chevy was strong during qualifying but in the race hopefully we are strong.
RB: After the Brazil incident, do you feel like, in the 500, the series may be keeping a closer eye on you?
TS: [Laughs] Why would they?
RB: You never know…there were a lot of people that were very vocal about the situation…
TS: It was only really a couple of drivers…did you see the race?
RB: Yes…great race…
TS: That’s it. That’s the racing for me. Ok, you shouldn’t block, but you should be able to defend. What’s difficult to see is the Brazil backstraight is meandering…it’s difficult to see. It was hard…obviously everyone was trying to win the race…it was hard racing. I gave room for the braking. I had no contact during the course of the race. I don’t think I did anything wrong. A couple of years ago, in IndyCar you weren’t really allowed to do any defending either so to that point…it looked extreme. But, to me this is proper racing. Everybody really enjoyed it. I know there were a couple of drivers that weren’t happy about it, but that’s just racing. Having said that, ovals are a lot different and it’s about respect. You don’t want to have too close racing because there are some risky parts. We drive ovals in a different style. For sure, as you saw last year, it’s going to be very exciting for the 500.