SONOMA, California – Takuma Sato is a giant among Giants this weekend in the Bay Area.
The Andretti Autosport driver and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion met San Francisco Giants players when he attended Tuesday night’s baseball game with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park. Sato returned the favor by inviting several Giants to Thursday’s Verizon IndyCar Series open test at Sonoma Raceway.
Pitchers Matt Cain, Steve Okert and Josh Osich accepted the offer that included a thrill ride around the 2.385-mile permanent road course in the INDYCAR Experience two-seat Indy car with Mario Andretti behind the wheel. Tom Rathman, retired running back for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, joined the Giants pitchers for the track visit and two-seater ride.
At the baseball game, Sato wowed the players with his Indy 500 champion’s ring; met retired legendary Giants first basemen Will Clark; checked out the life-size statues of Giants greats surrounding the stadium produced by sculptor William Behrends, who is creating the sterling silver likeness of Sato that will adorn the Borg-Warner Trophy; and chatted with another Japanese hero, Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda (right).
“It was awesome and a great experience to go on the field and meet with the Giants players,” said Sato, the first driver from Japan to win the Indianapolis 500. “I’ve been to major league games a few times as a fan, but this was my first time to be invited down to chat with players. It was fun to find out they are actually big fans of cars and racing. It was fun to talk to them.
“Then I got to meet Mr. Maeda of the Dodgers who is Japanese and a great player, and had a chat for about 20 minutes, so that was an incredible time. I really enjoyed the game, too. It was fascinating.”
Sato watched the game with Giants CEO Larry Baer in seats behind the dugout. At one point, Sato compared his Indy 500 ring with Baer’s 2012 World Series champion’s ring.
“It was very kind of Larry Baer to invite us to the first-row seats and it was a fantastic view,” Sato said. “We had a little time to spend with him and talk and that was a unique experience and a good day.”
The Giants players and Rathman had just as exciting an experience when they came to Sonoma Raceway on Thursday. Each was enthralled with the ride around the track known for its elevation changes and blind corners, especially with Indy car icon Andretti driving.
“It was awesome!” Osich exclaimed following his ride. “I wish I could get a few more laps. That was cool. I wish I could do this for a living, it’s pretty fun. It’s awesome to get to have a legend take you around, too.”
Cain was astonished with the grip that the two-seater has and Andretti’s ability to make it stick through the turns.
“Going to the first turn you don’t feel like you’re going to stay on the track, but the car just sucks to the ground and you keep on pushing,” Cain said. “Every turn was more and more fun. … That’s a memory for life.”
Rathman, the retired football player, admitted the up-and-down ride made him a little nauseous – but it was well worth it.
“I thought it was awesome,” Rathman said. “I’ll tell you what, my stomach was rolling out there. The acceleration those cars have is unbelievable and the way they hug those turns, it makes your stomach a little queasy.
“I drove go-karts for the fundraiser for the Navy SEALs (on Monday with several INDYCAR drivers) and that was hard; I was fatigued at the end of the day. I can’t imagine going two hours in one of those cars in the heat. It was a great experience, unbelievable.”