Predicting Takuma Sato to win only the second race of his major league career (and that’s counting F-1) in the finale at Fontana Saturday night may seem like lunatic fringe stuff – we all know you’re out there. After all, he’s had no success on the ovals since joining IndyCar full time in 2010 and extremely limited success overall. However there are some very compelling reasons as to why Takuma must win in Fontana. The most obvious of them all is simply to keep his ride next year with AJ Foyt Racing and in IndyCar period. In that sense, having been booted from F-1 after nearly a decade driving and never cracking the top five, the 37 year old is driving for his racing life.
Photo from lotusrace.com
Taku raced three IndyCar races as a rookie in 2005 to no avail, but began his career in earnest in 2010 with KV Racing and the woefully under-powered Lotus. This was after a fruitless seven year stint in F-1 with Bernie’s multi-billion dollar circus. Eventually he left KV to drive for Rahal Letterman Racing, but still found no success. Taku showed flashes of promise and led a couple races including 31 laps at Indianapolis, but tended to crash out struggling to finish. In 2013 to the surprise of many he joined AJ Foyt Racing and had to adjust again to a new team and to the abrasive, iconic Texan. At first his career continued to languish as he still sought his breakthrough win.
Takuma settled in quickly as the 2013 season progressed while AJ Foyt Racing also was settling in with a new boss, as son and former driver Larry Foyt assumed more of the racing responsibilities from AJ. The results soon showed as Taku took the ABC Supply car to his only big league victory at Long Beach in 2013. He followed that up in the next race at Sao Paolo with a solid second place finish in a wild, rain soaked race.
Photo from speedsport-magazine.com
Since then though it’s been more famine than feast. Taku’s best efforts this year have come in a fifth place finish in the second race at Toronto and a then an impressive fourth last week at Sonoma. He’s won two poles in 2014 and raced well at a few tracks, but still struggled to finish races. He’s over due for a top two finish this year and in picking him to win the finale we’re going for the gusto.
Last Sunday’s 6.0 earthquake in Cali was something the Japanese driver could relate to, as natural disasters are something his countrymen are certainly familiar with. After the catastrophic quake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Sato promoted the recovery charity for Japan on his car and did much good work in the global efforts to aid his stricken home nation. On Sunday Taku sustained damage to his car in the first lap melee at Sonoma but soldiered on smartly to a top five. It’s almost as if the quake woke Sato from his slumber and there is some discernible momentum there.
As for A.J, Lord only knows how much longer his patience with Taku will last or how long he’ll be with us in this racing world. The first four time winner of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, Anthony Joseph Foyt was born in January, 1935 in Texas. A hellion as a youth and arguably the best race car driver of all disciplines to ever have wheeled around a track, AJ is a legend in his own time. Having witnessed his final races at Indianapolis in the early 1990s and seen the man in action, this author vividly recalls the crowd’s appreciation, respect and adoration for Foyt. The awe fans held him in was apparent.
Photo from espn.go.com
AJ’s also had countless surgeries, accidents and even encounters with killer bees and survived them all. In short, the man’s a 78 year old walking brush with death, fortunate to be alive as we are fortunate to have him. But the years of counting on seeing his smiling face on pit lane are slipping past. The legends of old are slowly dying off, as always and must ever be. We at IRR hope fervently that AJ lives to see many more Mays at Indy. But we also hope he gets to enjoy one more trip to victory circle before he slips off track to the great pit lane beyond. We’re predicting Taku has one more great performance in him to ensure that happens.
Photo from toledoblade.com