Q: Takuma, you're back to a place where you almost won a year ago...
TAKUMA SATO: Really the "500" last year is just an unforgettable day for me, just seconds by seconds what was happening the last six laps -- and not just the last six, but the whole entire weekend and month. You could say that it was special and spectacular show.
I think at the end of the day, obviously, I was disappointed with the result, but still it was just tremendous support from the team and a great experience leading the "500" the first time. It was a special feeling and in particular after a hard fight, hard race with everyone, when I come back to the garage, hundreds of fans waited and cheered me a long time and Bobby (Rahal, 2012 car owner) really gave a big hand. It was just a special event.
Q: Given that, given the fact that you not only did so well in Long Beach, come off a good run in Brazil, you've had great success here, you're leading the points. You've got to feel just full of confidence going into this event.
SATO: Every single event is counting for the confidence. Which, obviously, this year is an entirely new challenge with AJ Foyt Racing, which is very exciting, of course. Meeting A.J. is something special and having an opportunity to race for him and his team, it's really an honor. And I really feel proud to be part of that team because it's a relatively small team but, I think, a bunch of quality people.
And, of course, talking about performance, it's very impressive last year that the team really ramped up rapidly, very impressive to put everybody in the right place at the right time. You know, it's just managing a team really well. So that's [why we're] starting to show the performance.
When I jump into the car, I remember very clearly that first time at Sebring this winter test, the car was a bit different from what I was used to from last year but it was very, very consistent. I thought, "Hmm, this consistency, if you can maintain it, just sharpen up the speed, we could have been really, really strong." And that's what we did.
And Don Halliday [engineer], I've known him a long time. Obviously, in this series, he did a really great job. And it was just an immediate bond between me and him. And all the whole entire team really worked well, and everybody see at Long Beach it was the perfect race. No one made a mistake. Nothing, you know, nothing wrong. And no bad luck at all. So there was a beautiful day.
And, of course, Brazil was one of the most exciting races we ever had. In the end, obviously, I was disappointed being second, but still I think it's a great satisfaction for the series doing a fantastic job, and to be able to be leading a championship after Brazil is an extra bonus for me.
Q: Takuma, you have a teammate for this race, Conor Daly, and he was busy last weekend racing GP3 in Barcelona. Are you also involved in helping the setting up his car and guide him through all the procedures?
SATO: Sure. Obviously, he had had a really difficult -- not difficult, a busy time over the course of the last weekend and doing the racing in Europe and coming here and jumping straight into Indy car doing 219, 220 miles per hour, it is a very different world. But I think he did it very well and was really impressed that his speed is coming so quickly. Today, actually, we can split the proper program for the test program between two cars to evaluate so many great things. So Sunday our team has got a doubled-up data.
He did a really good test last December while I wasn't there, not being on a contract. He did a very impressive job. Everyone knew obviously he's a talented, quick kid, but to be able to be up to speed yesterday was something that give me confidence that we can share good data.
Of course, the car he drove yesterday was exactly the carbon-copy setup what we developed, and it was really good. You know, the car should be able straight away to be competitive through the ROP program, and at the end of the day he was clocking 219mph, which is really fast, you know. So that's really good.
He enjoyed being here. He seems to enjoy even the little traffic yesterday he experienced, and, for sure, in the next four days for him it's another entire experience. But I'm confident we can both work together, share the data and we will both push the team as much as we can.
Q: Takuma, we saw you talking very closely with Conor during his orientation yesterday while he was in the cockpit. What did you have to offer him from your experience here that translated on the track for him?
SATO: He has some little experience from junior formula days on an oval, but never at Indy. This is such a special place. You could say oval, but it's slightly unique. So the line he's taking and where you approach, you know, where you could use a tool, like tool bars and the weight jack and stuff like that, he's been instructed from the engineer, but it was such a short time before he jumped in the car.
Once he got in the car, it is difficult for us to accommodate all the speed and everything. So there's so much pressure. What I could see from his line, [he was] taking too tight a line at the beginning, because probably he wanted away from the wall, but then he at the same time went on the white line, too. I told him that's like me on the very last lap, so don't do that, that sort of thing!
He was laughing and it obviously took the pressure off.
Q: You've raced for Jimmy Vasser, Bobby Rahal and now A.J. Foyt. What is the best advice those three have given to you about racing here?
SATO: Each [of them] is an icon of this sport. I was really impressed with Jimmy. He gave me the first opportunity to come here from Europe and give me a great opportunity to race with him. He's probably, in terms of his age, the closest in experience, at least in IndyCar. So he knows how to do it in the current format of IndyCar racing. So it was really great advice. Everything, of course, we go on ovals and how you do it. It was a good time.
But then, none of them is really advising me to how to drive. Of course, up until this level, you know, you don't really need to know how to do it. But, here, of course, there are ovals and talking about ovals is a completely different technique or approach you need. So those sort of things, Jimmy gave me little tips all the time.
And of course, Bobby... He made such a fantastic coach over the course of the season. Many, many times. And he tried to tie up everything together because he was coming back, you know, his team. And that was the first year with the DW12 and a lot of new people to work with. It was a difficult year for Bobby last year, for sure. But we showed such a performance race by race, so that was very impressive.
Today, A.J., it's different really. He hasn't actually given me any advice yet, to be honest, strictly speaking. But we know what we want. And that's good. I've got someone in the top of the team knowing the business in the cockpit, what I want to do -- he already knows it. So he's prepared for the team to lead that way. That's really helping me so that I don't have to say, "This is what we do, this is what we need." I don't have to tell them. So that's really, really good. Communication has been surprisingly, really good in a short amount of time.
Q: Earlier in your career, you did Formula 1. Do you think you still have unfinished business in F1 and will you want to go back one day?
SATO: The way it happened in F1 is just beyond your control. The fact was that I wasn't chosen for it, so that was the day that I said, "OK, Formula 1 is Formula 1; it's great. But then Formula 1 isn't the only racing." And of course, you know, I always interested in Indy all the time. So that's why I had a great opportunity to come here with Jimmy.
Since then my focus is 100 percent on Indy. And my first focus is to win the "500" and win the championship. I'm on the way, and I just achieved my first win and, you know, stepping up the stairs.
So I'm really happy where I am. Really in a happy place with AJ Foyt Racing and looking for a long future in IndyCar.
Q: Takuma, it's been about a decade and a half since A.J. last won here at Indianapolis with Kenny Brack. What do you think it would mean for him to win the "500" again, and have you had a chance to sit down and talk with A.J. about his four wins and how it was different back then compared to how difficult it is today to win this prestigious race?
SATO: I think for any team, winning the "500" would be so special. But doing that with A.J., I can't imagine how he's going to be. It's going to be a really, really huge moment for the team and for him and myself. But we're here for it. We are here aiming to win the "500." There is no reason why we cannot. We've been showing solid performance on the last two days in testing, and hopefully we continue the progress, and hopefully we'll be competitive. But out there, it's so competitive -- the last four events it was successful for us, but that doesn't necessarily translate to the oval because just completely new environment.
So, OK, we come here with a clean sheet of paper. What we can do from last year, they had quite a good car. And I was so close last year. Knowing that, now how to get there, what you need there, hopefully I can translate it to this year's performance.
But I really just cannot say any more than that, because I don't know how we will feel, you know, if we win the "500." But I think, as I talked a little while ago, A.J. and I are talking quite a bit. Not necessarily about the racing, but he sometimes will talk about his racing days. It is quite fun to hear because his time was so different and, particularly for the "500," winning was so special. You go to the museum and they show his old winning cars, and, there is a picture hanging on the wall. It was history, and I'm really, really keen to hear more of the story over the next two weeks that we share a lot of days.
Q: Obviously last year you showed that you would go for it. A.J. said that you've also talked about if it's a 10th-place car, not to go for it. How does Takuma Sato know when it's time to go for it?
SATO: Only time will tell, and only the result will tell. So I'm not going to say I will do it or not. But you can see the last four events I finish every race, whether it was winning, whether it was 14th place, I don't remember. We had some difficult times at the first two races, some mechanical problems, pit stop issues, we fell off from the front row to some other places. But every time we finished and, I think, made a strong comeback. To me it's just "never give up." Even St. Pete, we dropped back to 12th and were fighting back to eighth place until the very last when I overtook Justin Wilson. So every point is counting.
I think now, you know, I've got enough experience to judge when the car's third quickest and probably finishing third is important as well, as you're committed. But when there is a chance, then I never back off.