A Few Words With Reigning Indy 500 Champion Takuma Sato

On Sunday May 27, 2018, the Indy 500 will be raced for the 102nd time. When the dust settled on Bump Day, the 33 drivers that qualified wasn’t a surprise but the two that didn’t make it was definitely a disappointing shock. Pippa Mann in the #63 Dayle Coyne Racing kept losing speed, and James Hinchcliffe had issues as well and neither made the cut. Ultimately Hinchcliffe announced Thursday that all options were exhausted, ending all chances to race on Sunday – and will no doubt affect his current #5 position in championship points. Danica Patrick, in her final race before retirement, rounded out the top nine at 9th on the starting grid.

In the week leading up to the 2018 Indy 500, drivers traveled to different cities to publicize the race. Reigning champion Takuma Sato visited New York City where he was toasted by the Japanese Ambassador and talked with the media. I was able to chat with Sato, an all-around nice guy and consummate sportsman, for a couple minutes and ask him about the exciting last five laps of his win, what winning the race means to him, and what the competition in this year’s race looks like.

PCG: In last year’s Indy 500, I couldn’t breathe in those last five laps before you took the checkered flag. Can you speak to how important it was to you to win and take the [Borg-Warner] trophy to Japan?

Sato: Well, as I said on the stage here it was just an unbelievable experience and was really the significant moment in my life and it just feels amazing really and every single aspect was a huge experience for me. And like you said, yes, bringing the trophy to Japan is one of amazing story because not only my ambition but also for the entire Indycar and all winners in 83 years of history they’ve never done it in our strategy. So I think a lot of people’s commitment showing a lot of people’s appreciation is really truly showing that it is happening and I don’t know how to say, but it is just a dream come true.

So the last five laps was very touch-go move because for me… So 10 laps to go and Max Chilton, another driver leading the race and he by himself is really fast, so… I mean could overtake him but it was really risky because he was so fast. And I was just trying to figure out how I can overtake him as well as how I could protect him as well. So I was learning on quite a few laps. And Helio Castroneves charging me and he overtook me, impressive move in turn 3 on outside. When I saw it I knew that Helio is doing the same thing to Max. So instead of chasing Helio I basically let him do it.  And in fact, he overtook him two laps later and then he lost momentum – so Max lost momentum – that’s the time I could overtake him. Now it’s between Helio and I, right. So I could wait until last lap to overtake Helio, however if I do so, what if there is a yellow comes in, right? And that means I will be finishing in second before I challenge, and I didn’t want to make that happen. However, if I overtook with three laps to go he will re-overtake me and that would be the end of the story. So I was thinking, how do we do it? And five laps to me is the magic number. Because I overtake him, see how many laps he can take to come back and attempt, whether it was first lap or second lap, or third lap. And the only thing I didn’t know was whether he couldn’t or didn’t. If he didn’t that would be a problem because that means he could be out of sequence. However when I saw him make an attempt three laps later I overtook him which is two laps to and by that time I realized if I could hold the pace I could win because by the time I pull away he takes another two laps to come back which is checkered flag. So to me either way the five laps to go when I lead I can do very… how to you say in English?

PCG: Strategic?

Sato: Noooo… Flexible! Can be very flexible in any circumstance. So that’s the way I saw it. And it became as I saw it. And obviously this is a rare case because usually the reality doesn’t go to the way you planned it. But – that was the day I got so much luck, so much environment, physically I have a very fast car, and mentally I was so relaxed and strong and I was able to compete on the highest level with the guy I could trust one hundred percent because Helio Castroneves is the guy to beat for Indy 500 so I was very happy in that moment.

PCG: In this Indy 500, you will be racing with five previous winners. Are you looking forward to a really competitive race?

Sato: Yes! I’m really looking forward to it, in fact it’s going to be a really tough challenge, honestly speaking, of course, nothing is impossible so I will try my best but looking at the circumstances it will be extremely tough to do the race but I think it will be great. Obviously, Alexander Rossi, and Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon and myself… who else, I don’t know, but it can be anybody else. So I think it’s going to be a great show for sure and any of the result I think I will accept, however, hopefully I wish we can have a big smile after the race, yes.

PCG: After some of the issues in practice, are you feeling more confident going into Friday’s practice?

Sato: I think the honest answer is yes and no. Physically and mentally myself I am ready to take action, of course. The car, unfortunately we had some issues, we have some struggles, but I think the engineers work so hard and squeeze out the last one percent of speed for Qualifying 1 and Qualifying 2 showing a huge step forward so I believe we can build a car as competitive as possible to check the things on the fly on Carb Day and if that’s the case, I think a 16 spread has no meaning. I can move up and I can compete for the win and that’s what I want to do.

PCG: Thank you for your time and good luck!

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