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Interview With Takuma Sato, Winner of The Toyota GP of Long Beach

This is Takuma Sato’s first win in the IndyCar Series. It comes in his 52nd start in the series. He’s also the first Japanese driver to win in IndyCar. His best finish here at Long Beach was eighth in 2012.

Takuma, talk about today’s race, getting your first win.

TAKUMA SATO: I mean, first of all thanking to everyone for support. It’s fantastic day. I mean, tremendous work from the team the whole winter. The first two races we show it’s great performance. Unfortunately we had little issues during the race. Not many people noticed that. But I think we show the good speed.

I mean, today, this weekend, there was no mistake, nothing. And the qualify performance from the team, working with the boys and the engineers, and today was just perfect. The car was so fun to drive. I could manage both sets of tires, black and red, working on the way to us. The restarts, I had to be really cautious, especially the last one. But then we get our way with that. A couple of the restarts was very good. I had to push so hard because I had the black tire, all surrounding me had the alternate tire. I knew from last year the black tire was a little risky, but it could work really well if you can hanging on to the top three, which we did.

We overtook Ryan. It was fantastic. The whole podium was completely with Honda engine. Was very, very, very happy. Today Larry called the pits perfect, and the boys did a perfect job. No mistake at all. I’m just really proud of the day for AJ Foyt Racing. This is just a tremendous start for us.

Q: Larry, congratulations on bringing the team back to Victory Lane after an 11-year absence. Talk about today’s race, the strategy, and the chemistry you’re seeing between the team and Takuma.

LARRY FOYT: It was really kind of immediate when Takuma came in. We knew he was fast. Until you really know somebody, you don’t know how you’re going to work together and how it’s going to be. It was great our first working relationship was a seven-day Caribbean cruise. We’ve been good friends ever since.

It was great. I really think between our chief engineer Don Halliday and Takuma, there was a lot of trust there, which you have to have. It’s been great. Like Takuma said, the speed has been there. Little issues can always bite you. Our junior engineer kept telling us, We don’t have to be the biggest team to win. There can be positives to being a smaller team and a tight-knit group.

I think as you saw when we got the checkered flag, the excitement of the whole team. So much hard work over the winter. It’s a super group of guys with a super sponsor and it just all works.

Q. Has anyone talked to AJ  (Foyt) yet? If so, what did he say?

TAKUMA SATO: He’s very happy. He said he’s very proud. It’s a shame he can’t be here. I think he watched the whole race, every lap. He said a big congratulations to the team and me, so I was very happy.

LARRY FOYT: Yeah, he has to have surgery next week, so he said that this really lifts his spirits. He said everybody did a great job.

I hate it that he’s not here. He’s such a big part of everything we do every day. I hate he’s not here, but this is certainly great for him.

Q. Are you sure you didn’t clean his quotes up there?

LARRY FOYT: He was surprisingly calm. He said, If my memory serves me correct, I think it’s been since 2002. But he’s very happy.

Q. Takuma, how do you think this win will be received in Japan?

TAKUMA SATO: I think it’s great news from sporting point of view for the Japanese all over the world competing, any win is really great news for us, particularly that we had such a tragedy for the earthquake two, three years ago, we had such a difficulty. People still on the way back. 300,000 people still don’t have the home, have temporary living. This hopefully is a good news to cheer them up and hopefully, yes, this is just a start, and to bring more IndyCar excitement and enthusiasm to Japanese fans to know it.

Motor racing people already know IndyCar is special. As you know, Formula One and IndyCar, Japan, it’s a big sport. Unfortunately we don’t have Indy in Japan, but hopefully this is a little start to recover and not so long time I’d love to go back to Japan with the series.

Q. Larry, a lot of times people wondered what would become the future of AJ Foyt Racing once he decided he was done. Then they brought you on. This has got to be the sign of a new regime at this sport to maybe newer and greater heights.

LARRY FOYT: Yeah, I hope so. I always kind of had hopes and plans of coming back and running our team our keeping our team going for as long as I can.

When my driving career wasn’t going so well, that’s what dad called me and said, Son, I’m getting older. If you really want to keep this thing going, maybe you ought to think of coming home and learn the business. That’s what I did. I didn’t want to come in and make a ton of changes right off. I observed and slowly started to make changes.

We work together a lot. I hardly make any decisions that I don’t bounce off of AJ, that we don’t discuss and talk about. Amazing, as stern as he can be on some things, he’s not one of those people that doesn’t understand change. He’s been very supportive and understands everything we’re doing and changing. I’m happy. I’m glad we have another multi-year contract with ABC who has been awesome with us. I think that puts us in a good position with the future. What this guy did today, hopefully that keeps us heading in that direction.

Q. Several Japanese drivers before you, but never any of the expectations that you brought with you from Formula One.

TAKUMA SATO: Indeed, I’m honored to be the first one to win, but not because of me, it’s everyone else. A lot of Japanese drivers started in history, not only me, and a friend of mine (indiscernible). I think everybody tried, those people really opened the door to me.

When I arrived Indy, it was good surprise really. It just a different series, but it’s so competitive. Good variety with street course, road course, oval, big Indianapolis 500, but short ovals. You have to be very consistent, to have a good team, to understand everything.

It’s been three and a half years to get here, but I always believed I can challenge. Basically I just try keep on going and really appreciate that finally I’m learning what I wanted to.

Q. What crossed your mind when you took the checkered flag?

TAKUMA SATO: In fact, I was really enjoying driving. I didn’t want to finish the race because it felt so good. I could keep continue.

But I think in the last five laps you can feel the whole tension be there. Larry saying three laps, two laps. This is my first win in a major category over Formula 3, my last race on the top of the podium. But this is the one and feels so easy when you win like this. Everything just was perfect. Just make sure you don’t have the bad luck. Just make sure you don’t make the mistake and the win is there. I always believe this. I think this guy and the whole team really made me happen.

Q. Larry, how long has your engineering team been in place? Was it difficult to get AJ to move on with the engineering? Once upon a time he just depended on Shorty.

LARRY FOYT: This is the second year we’ve kind of had the same group together. We’ve been building synergy there. AJ is one of those people that you have to earn his trust. Once you have it, you’ve got it.

I think Don, the chief engineer, got it quickly. AJ knows more about these racecars than anybody.

For so long he did it all himself. I think we’ve come to a day and age where you can’t do that anymore, you really have to rely on people. They get along great. Once AJ trusts you like that, you’re golden.

Q. Larry, I believe you said that was as close to a perfect race as you’d seen a driver run. Long Beach, a challenging course. Expand on that a little bit.

LARRY FOYT: It was unbelievable. Every restart he timed it perfectly. He did a great job in the pits. He hit his marks. Like you say, it’s so hard to have a perfect day in racing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one if there was one, I think Takuma did it today. I didn’t see him make a mistake out there all day. It was a fantastic drive. He did everything we asked.

Toward the end we wanted to be safe on fuel. We thought we were okay, but there was no sense in taking the risk. I was just asking him to save me a little fuel and he was still pulling away from Graham. I couldn’t believe it. Too good to be true. He just did a great job.

Like he said, the team did a great job in the pits. Like we’ve been saying, we have the speed, we just had to put it all together, and we did it today.

Q. Takuma, coming from the number of years in Formula One, now you’re here in IndyCar, the competition is close in this series, how does Formula One compare to this kind of racing? Did you have more fun here?

TAKUMA SATO: I think it’s difficult that everybody understands, that motor racing is not just one thing. The driver is one factor, but the team and engineers and whole bunch of a group has to be perfect to win the race. That’s same thing happening in Formula One. You can’t just back and forth comparing the thing because the environment is so different.

One thing in Formula One that is difficult, particularly for the drivers, you have to be on one of top teams. If you are short on, how I can say, if you not one of the top teams, you can’t even dreaming getting to the podium because fundamentally the car performance was much bigger than the driver’s skills performance.

Going back to the IndyCar, this is a lot tighter. We’re talking about, how can I say, the gap, the series is so tight, much closer than what Formula One has. That’s because we see the nature of the series have one make and the competition now between two engine manufacturers is getting really close. Of course, the whole team tried to get best out of it. It was so close. And driver, we have to know everything else. I really like it. I really like this highest level of competition. Plus what is nice with IndyCar, there are so many action you can do on track, which I love it. From cockpit point of view, yes, Formula One is fast, because the amount of development and budget you can spend is different, but when you see actual head-to-head and side-by-side racing, you can’t really compare any single series than what the IndyCar produce. You can have much more overtaking, a lot of fun on the track, pit strategy, et cetera.

I really proud and really pleased to come to here. Thanks to Jimmy (Vasser) give me the IndyCar Series. And Bobby (Rahal). Now AJ and Larry give me a fantastic opportunity to work with. This is just a start. Now we going back to Brazil. It’s a different street course, but I hope we have a strong package and we just keep continue with it.

Q. Larry, you got Honda back in Victory Lane this year. How does that make you feel?

LARRY FOYT: It’s great. Yeah, we’re not the big guy, for sure. I don’t know that someday maybe we would want to be. What we did is hard work is what got us there. I think people started to take notice last year when we started to show some speed. People would say, You guys are starting to turn it around. You can never rest in this game. Even after a day like today, we’re thinking about Brazil and what we’ve got to do there.

Things, it’s still hard, like Takuma said. Everyone is so tight. Today was an amazing day for him to pull away like that. You don’t see that much in this series. We’re going to keep working hard. Our goal is obviously to win as many races as we can, win the Indy 500, win the championship. It’s still full steam ahead for us.

Q. Can both of you address what it means to break your winning drought at Long Beach.

LARRY FOYT: This is great ’cause this is certainly one of the historic races on our schedule. I’m really happy to be a part of Takuma’s first win, it’s really special because I think we hit it off already, started a great friendship and great working relationship. He’s brought a lot to the table for us, to get AJ Foyt Racing back in Victory Lane, it’s really awesome. I hope it’s the beginning of a long partnership.

TAKUMA SATO: For me, I don’t mind where the place is, but Long Beach seems like a perfect place to get the first win. The West Coast, a lot of Japanese community down here. You can hear a lot of cheering from the Japanese at the parade lap before the race. So that was really good.

Like Larry said, history of Long Beach, of the Grand Prix, it’s just fantastic. It’s something that I wanted to do from last year. Last year I had a little experience in the last couple corners. But we come back strong and we show our strength and speed. I’d really like to say big thank you to everyone for supporting the team. Fantastic.

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Posted by on April 22, 2013. Filed under Breaking News,Indy Car. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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