FORT WORTH, Texas – At 42 years old, Takuma Sato laughed when asked if he felt in the prime of his career after being fastest in qualifying Friday for the DXC Technology 600 that runs Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Laughed not because the question bothered the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, but instead because he’s happy people see how consistently well he’s performing in his 10th NTT IndyCar Series season – that followed an seven-year stint in Formula One.
DXC TECHNOLOGY 600: Starting lineup
Sato piloted the No. 30 ABeam Consulting Honda to a two-lap averaged of 220.250 mph to capture the pole in qualifying on the 1.5-mile oval. It brought his second NTT P1 Award of the season, following Barber Motorsports Park in April, when he went on to win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Sato added a strong third-place finish two weeks ago in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and followed it six days later with another third place in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader.
Heading into Saturday’s race under the lights at TMS, Sato sits fifth in the championship standings, 61 points behind leader Josef Newgarden. Driving for KV Racing Technology, AJ Foyt Racing, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing since he joined the series in 2010, he’s never finished better than eighth in the championship.
That came last year in his second go-round with the Rahal team (he drove one season for RLL in 2012).Sato credits the continuity of a second straight season with RLL and camaraderie he enjoys with teammate Graham Rahal as keys to what’s shaping up to be his best season.
“Really, everything has come together,” said the 2017 Indy 500 winner when he was with Andretti Autosport. “This year seems to be hooking up great speed, consistency, great race craft, too. Hopefully, this trend goes to the end of the season so I can challenge for the top three of the championship.”
Sato admitted that the team struggled early in 2018 coming to grips with the new universal aero kit. Things sorted out in the second half of the season. Sato notched six top-10 finishes on the final 11 races, including an impressive win at the Grand Prix of Portland.
That began to build momentum and confidence within the team that’s carried over to 2019. It helps that he has a teammate who challenges him as well.
“Graham is a great teammate,” Sato said. He gave me great feedback for the conditions (in qualifying), too. We trust each other. We are pushing like hell each other. We completely believe in ourselves that we can do the job.”
It isn’t like Sato needs a talented teammate to push him to greater heights. At 42, he’s among the eldest drivers in the field, competing with peach-fuzz competitors less than half his age. Sato knows he must continue to raise his game of be left behind.
“Obviously, I'm challenging (myself) all the time,” he said. “But this time, of course, I've got great support from the team. Yeah, I feel more confident, more comfortable shall we say … pushing 100 percent of course.
“Every athlete tries to improve yourself. Every time I jump in the car, I still feel I am developing, still learning.”
And he’s far from ready to back down. He lives by the racing motto “No attack, no chance,” and doesn’t plan to stray from it anytime soon.
“I want to maximize that performance,” Sato said. “The rest of the season, my approach will be exactly the same: If I have a chance, I will go for it 100 percent. If not, if the car is a fifth-place car, we will take fifth place. We'll see how we end up end of the season.”
Live coverage of the DXC Technology 600 begins at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The green flag to start the race is expected at 8:45 p.m.
DXC TECHNOLOGY 600 FAST FACTS
Race 9 of 17 on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule
Track: Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile superspeedway in Fort Worth, Texas. It has hosted NTT IndyCar Series events since 1997. Saturday’s race will be the 31st at the track in series history.
Race distance: 248 laps/357.12 miles
Fuel: 95 gallons of Speedway E85 ethanol for each entry