Belle Isle, MI – What a week its been for Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato. The Andretti Autosport driver became the first Japanese driver to win the big race last Sunday, and after a whirlwind tour of the United States, here he is in Belle Isle trying to do what only five drivers have done since 1980 – win the next race.
Winning at Indy is such an emotional thing to do, and what ensues after is just as difficult. Multiple cities to travel to and a ton of media availabilities lead to not much sleep and not much focus on the upcoming race weekend.
“Yeah pretty much,” Sato said while laughing when I asked him about if it’s a relief to finally put the media stuff behind him and get back in his car again. “Although I enjoyed the tour but I’m even more happier to finally get back in the car.
“This morning was quite refreshing.”
The last five ‘500 winners have come here to Belle Isle trying to back up their win with another victories on the 2.35-mile street circuit. Just one of them have even finished with a top five – Dario Franchitti in 2012 (second place).
Alexander Rossi last year was 10th and 12th respectively, while Juan Pablo Montoya (10th, 10th) Ryan Hunter-Reay (16th, 19th) and Tony Kanaan (13th, 12th) could barely crack the top 10.
The last driver to win the next race after Indy?
Arie Luyendyk in 1997.
Before that, Al Unser Jr. accomplished that feat in 1994, then Rick Mears in 1988. Tom Sneva (1983) and Gordon Johncock (1982) are the only other ones to do this since 1980.
Now, Sato will try his hand at it.
“It’s just great, especially for the team,” Sato told me about what it was like showing up to his first race weekend since winning at Indy. “The guys are just so pumped up. I was actually knackered after the media tour. Which is a great tour by the way. We did a lot of media. I wouldn’t really consider it fatigue for this Detroit because this is a race we really need to score as many points as possible. That’s a really deciding factor for this weekend challenge in the championship for the season.”
He was 12th and sixth respectively on the speed charts on Friday, and now turns his full focus on the rest of the race weekend.
Sato, has finished 12th, 19th, 23rd, 18th, 18th, 11th, second, 11th and 10th respectively in his nine career starts here. He finished fifth in another street course at St. Pete in this year’s season opener, and currently sits fourth in the season standings.
Luckily for Sato, two of his teammates have recently won the Indy 500, so he can lean on them on what to expect with the draining media tour.
“Yeah they give me a hard time so you have to be prepared for that,” Sato said about what advice his teammates have given him. “We’ve seen it, after winning the ‘500 coming then coming here, the drivers condition isn’t always 100-percent. So I’ve been trying to minimize the damage. There’s still some degradation. Luckily the last two nights I’ve had some good sleep. So I think tomorrow shouldn’t be any problem.”