Takuma Sato Q&A on his Dale Coyne Racing membership
Former Formula 1 driver Sato will start his 13th IndyCar season in a new home, taking part in the # 51 Coyne-RWR race recently vacated by Romain Grosjean. A memorandum of understanding between the pilot and the team was signed a few months ago, and the delay that followed consisted in “finishing the small details”.
But now the news is out and for the first time in their history the small team from Plainfield, IL have an Indy 500 winner on their books – a twice Winner of the Indy, nothing less.
It’s only a one-year contract at the moment, but Sato and Coyne told Motorsport.com there are options to continue, and they intend to do so. It’s an interesting display of faith, especially on the part of the team, as as other pilots over the age of 40, and still others in their 30s, cling by their fingernails to part-time rides, or even half-luck, here Coyne places no limits on his relationship with a driver who turns 45 in January.
A decent starting point for a conversation with Sato.
DML: You are almost 45 now. Do you feel as good now as when you entered IndyCar with KV Racing in 2010?
TS: Yes, I know that, even though you can’t physically compare yourself to what you were 10 years ago. If I compare the purely physical performance – speed of recovery, flexibility, etc. – to those of adolescents in sports, then I could see a certain degradation. But as a complete package as a racing driver, including experience and mental preparation, I feel like I’m always moving forward, upwards. If I ever felt like I wasn’t as good as the year before, I would stop because that would mean I wasn’t 100% and you have to be 100% in IndyCar to be successful. But that day has not yet come – I feel absolutely physically and mentally ready for another full season of IndyCar, fully motivated.
I believe because there was never even a hint that you were looking outside the IndyCar for your ride in 2022, right? I would have thought that given your Honda ties, Acura’s sports car blueprints would have been an obvious option for you …
Endurance racing certainly could have been an interesting opportunity but I wanted to focus on the IndyCar while I have opportunities there. I’m open to other categories in the future, honestly, but you can’t turn down a full time IndyCar race.
Dale Coyne Racing was very fast for several years at the Indy 500. Was that one of the main team attractions for you?
Oh sure, that’s a very attractive point. Dale cars have been very fast in different specifications and in different conditions. Everyone will remember Sébastien Bourdais’ superb qualifying laps in 2017, even though he unfortunately couldn’t finish the race. And their cars have been quick in race and qualifying ever since, even with chassis changes, aero kits and the addition of aeroscreens… The Dale team just understands how to be fast on the Speedway, whatever the conditions. . It definitely appeals to me – and in fact, as a driver, I’m interested in driving his car and seeing how similar or different it is to the cars I had before. Sure, you’d say this is one of the smaller teams out there, but they’ve shown consistent speed for many years.
Romain Grosjean – and before that, Alex Palou and Sébastien Bourdais – scored podiums for Coyne on road and urban courses. Is the chance to shine on these circuits also an attractive factor for you after some struggles there at RLL over the past two seasons?
I would say I think we found some pretty good speed on Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s road courses at the end of this year. But I know what you mean; Grosjean’s pace last season was very impressive – although I would also say Romain is one of the best drivers in this series. But even the best driver can’t shine without a good car so I think being fast, even though he was a rookie, is a really good sign for me next year. The team must do a very good job.
I realize David Malukas has yet to be confirmed as a teammate, but as a general rule what do you think about working with a rookie – however talented he is – given that your previous two trips have seen you share data with veteran teammates like Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay? Will a rookie’s lack of experience affect your progress or that of the team?
Hmmm, well I think the most important thing is for your teammate to be fast, and with David we saw he’s really fast in Indy Lights and in this IndyCar test at Barber when he was fastest. I think that gives the team and me confidence, honestly. I mean, yeah when you share data it always helps if a driver is also experienced while being fast but I think with no real changes to cars next year I can bring my experience what this car needs to be fast and a rookie will benefit from the experience.
The other reason I don’t worry about a newbie teammate is that Dale has such a good reputation for bringing in the next generation of drivers, helping them learn all about the IndyCar, so I know he can. get a novice pilot up to speed very quickly. . I think every young driver should come with Dale Coyne’s team! Now with the added support of Rick Ware the team can be even stronger and that will be good for me and my teammate. I think it will be a great combination.
Obviously the IndyCar regulations for testing are very restrictive – I think just one day for you before St. Petersburg. Despite all your experience, is it particularly difficult for a pilot who changes teams?
It’s very difficult, without a doubt, especially after four years on the same team, where we could just find what was working the year before and tweak it and pick up the pace very easily. Now I’m going to see what Coyne used the year before, and remember what I did the year before, and see which one is working the best now, and so going through it all obviously takes a long time. , a lot of adaptation for a new combination of driver and team.
Yes, it will never be easy with just one day of testing, which is a little silly and a little scary. What if there was an issue that meant we couldn’t run that day? There would be no systems checks, no pit practice, so the first day of team learning would be the first day of training in St. Petersburg…
But, these are the rules, we can’t control it. So we try to maximize our time between now and then to make sure that whatever can be done before that has been done. We’ve already done the seat adjustment in Dale’s racing shop and we need to make some design changes to the car to make it appealing to me, and hopefully I will feel at home and happy in the car. .
Dale Coyne has always loved being the underdog who can lead the fight against big teams. Is this something you like too? Does that take you back to your Formula 1 days with Super Aguri?
Ha! Yes I like that. It’s a small team but it’s very well organized and it’s used to being a small team – it’s not like a big team that has suddenly lost money and needs to shrink in size. It’s a small team that knows how to function, everyone knows what everyone is doing.
I also have to say that I really like Dale’s personality. I realize that I have been very lucky to work with IndyCar bosses who understand their drivers very well, maybe because they were drivers before. My friend Jimmy Vasser to start, then Bobby, then AJ and Larry Foyt, Michael Andretti, Bobby again and now Dale.
I never forgot this time in Wisconsin, Road America weekend in 2017, I had dinner with my physio and saw Dale and Gail Coyne across the room. Dale and I had never spoken before, but he stood up and crossed the room to congratulate me on the Indy victory a few weeks before. He had no reason to do that, we were working for rival teams, so it was very useless to come and talk to me, so I thought it was very nice, and it shows the respect he has for pilots, even those who are not. its drivers. He loves racing and respects those who do.
So I really enjoyed that moment, and I’ve never forgotten it – and now we’re there, over four years later and working together. I’m really excited and honestly wish we could do some testing tomorrow. I think our potential together is very strong and therefore I hope we can reach that maximum as soon as possible.
Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images