Q&A: Takuma Sato on the Long Beach GP

Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato

Enigmatic driver Takuma Sato returns to defend his Long Beach Grand Prix title this weekend.

After claiming pole position for the recent season-opening St Petersburg race, Takuma Sato heads into the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with plenty of confidence.

The former F1 driver rode a torrent of ups and downs throughout 2013 with the undoubted highlight coming with his maiden IndyCar win at Long Beach followed by the low of being involved in the accident which ended Dario Franchitti’s career at the Houston race.

In an interview with IndyCar, Sato talks about that breakthrough victory at the famous street race.

QUESTION: Takuma, you’re off to another strong start to the 2014 season with the pole position and leading the first part of the race. Are your happy with the way the season began?

TAKUMA SATO: Well, we had a slightly bitter race result at the season-opening race (starting on pole but finishing 7th), but overall, I think it’s a very good start of the season.

We had a fantastic performance throughout the weekend but especially in qualifying and we raced hard to get valuable good points.

It is great to see the team’s winter preparation showing so positively. We will continue to work hard.”

Q: What will it be like to come back to Long Beach as the defending winner?

SATO: It was a very special day for me, so going back there I feel good and confident. We should be able to show a strong performance again.

Q: How did winning at Long Beach last year change your outlook as a driver?

SATO: It changed my environment nicely a bit, but the important point is that as we did it, A.J. Foyt Racing became a very strong group as a team.

I always believed that we could do the job but until you’ve actually done it, it would be only a hope, a dream and an objective. You believe it, and keep challenging, then it happens.

Q: What’s the key to running well at Long Beach?

SATO: Long Beach is a typical street course, mostly 90 degree corners. So the car needs to react well from heavy braking to sharp turn-in and quick exit.

Also the track has one of the tightest and slowest hairpins in the series (final corner) and so it requires very strong traction coming out corner.

Q: Long Beach will feature a standing start and it will be the first of the season. How do you feel about the standing starts?

SATO: I like standing starts in general. Most of my racing career, I had (raced with standing starts) until I arrived in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but I don’t mind the standing or rolling starts.

It’s nice to show the fans and be a little different. We had only done standing starts twice in the last season and on both occasions it was pretty good, so I expect the Long Beach start will be spectacular.

On the technical side, the Honda engine configuration is different this year because it’s a twin turbo so we need to adapt for the new torque curve.

We didn’t have much chance to practice at winter testing so we will see how we can catch up and improve our start performance in the practice sessions.

Q: The last driver to repeat at Long Beach was Sebastien Bourdais, who won three in a row in 2005-07. How tough it would be to win back-to-back races?

SATO: It will always be tough to win this race. Everything has to be perfect, but why not? We will certainly try our best and aim to win.

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