Houston Grand Prix (2014)

Race Report: Race 2 Grand Prix of Houston

HOUSTON June 29, 2014—Frustration sums up the emotions of Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt’s  ABC Supply team as Race 2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston ended early for the hometown team.

Qualifying 10th at the NRG Park circuit, Sato got off to a good start and was in ninth when the call came from the officials to move back three spots behind Carlos Munoz. Officials said that Sato had shortcut the chicane and passed Munoz. Munoz meanwhile lost three more spots on that same lap, dropping to 13th.

“We made a good start and went side by side with Munoz through the chicane, but he forced me wide through the shortcut. I didn’t gain an advantage, and didn’t overtake him until turn 5,” Sato explained. “So I thought there shouldn’t be a penalty.  IndyCar saw it differently and told me to get behind Munoz who was now three cars back. We lost a lot because of that but we kept going.”

Sato lost six positions on that give-back but with the help of a strong car and a 6.98-second pit stop, he was able to break back into the top 10 by lap 21.

Race Report: Race 1 of Houston Grand Prix

HOUSTON June 28, 2014—For a while, it appeared that Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply had everything going their way in Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston today. Then a chain of events unfolded which saw Sato go from leading the race to being held up by a backmarker and eventually being taken out by another backmarker.

Sato was quick in Firestone Fast Six qualifying -- leading in the first two knockout rounds only to have an issue in the final round which relegated him to sixth place. No matter because by the end of lap one, he was in fourth and by lap five he was pacing the field—and doing it all on a wet track.

Showers came down hard about 25 minutes before the race was to start and all cars had to start on rain tires. Despite the wet conditions, the standing start went off fairly smoothly with only one car stalling and having to get restarted.

Sato got a good start but then got sandwiched between two cars. He backed off and everyone made it through. He passed them one at a time and was fourth by lap one. By lap four he was second with two brilliant passes and the following lap he passed pole winner Simon Pagenaud for the lead.

Practice Report: Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston

HOUSTON June 27, 2014—Takuma Sato and the ABC Supply team showed that they haven’t forgotten the quick way around Houston’s NRG Park circuit as the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda was in the top 10 of both practice sessions today.

In the morning session Sato was fourth quickest posting a time of 1 minute, .79 seconds around the 1.634-mile course. In the second session, he was seventh quick.

“I’m happy to be back in Houston,” Sato said. “We had a strong qualifying run last year, it’s the team’s base track so I see all the family and friends of the team, and A.J. is in a good mood, so all we need to do is go fast.

We made progress in both sessions today. Since we have to go straight into the qualifying tomorrow morning, it is crucially important to have a good baseline car the first day and we had that. We still have things to do, so we need to work hard and hopefully we’ll have a good performance tomorrow.”

Twenty-three drivers will participate in qualifying for the Firestone Fast Six which begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning. Race 1 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston will begin later that day with a standing start at 3:50 ET.


NOTES & QUOTES: Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston

Takuma Sato On:

o His confidence from winning pole here in 2013: “It is always good to know you’re going to the place where you performed well in the past. We also have achieved two pole positions this season on the street courses [St. Petersburg and Detroit)] so that gives me extra confidence too.”

o The key to getting around NRG Park: “Pretty much it’s the usual menu for the street tracks which are good mechanical grip, strong stability and a good front end. But here especially you need to build a driver-friendly car for consistently good drivability all the time because the track has slippery concrete patches and very bumpy surfaces but some seriously high speed corners as well.”

o Heat and humidity as factors this year—his prep to optimize his fitness: “Not only for this race but you need to build up your fitness level high through the season. Based on that, I spent some time in Japan after nearly a month of consecutive racing activity. I had a good maintenance over there plus it’s the rainy season in Japan now so it was a perfect prep for Houston: warm temperatures with high humidity.”

o A past race where he had to deal with high heat and humidity: “There were several races with extreme conditions that I have experienced in my career. In Formula 1, it was a super-hot but dry condition at Bahrain where it felt like standing in front of a hairdryer all the time, or the ultra-high heat with humidity at Sepang in Malaysia. I used to go a beautiful Langkawi island before the Malaysian GP for a week – just for the temperature acclimation training. There you start sweating just standing still but then I’d climb a mountain through the forest… that was hard but it was great training.”

o His success on the street courses— driving style or car setup? “It’s a combination. If the car works well then you can drive really hard so the speed and lap times come all together. I always enjoyed street course racing like the Macau GP in F3 or Monaco GP in F1 but other than that, I didn’t have much experience on street courses before I came over to the U.S. Now, I really have a great variety of street experience and really like them so I enjoy driving this kind of track, and the No.14 car works to my liking.”

o What he’d consider a successful weekend: “Houston will be a big race for us as it’s our team’s home town. Winning is obviously mega but staying clean and finishing high for both races would be great especially because it’s a tough weekend being a double header.”

o Mid-season assessment: “We certainly have been competitive at most of the tracks but there were some that we couldn’t figure out quickly enough in the early part of the race weekend which made it tough to catch up. We had a successful test at Milwaukee before the two week break, and there we found a great hint for the general oval track setting. I’m looking to keep working hard with our ABC Supply team for the rest of season and I believe we can grab strong results soon.”

Over $30,000 Helmet! Takuma Sato’s helmet, worn by him in this year’s Indianapolis 500 and especially designed as a tribute to the Indy 500 and team owner A.J. Foyt, was recently auctioned off this month. The winning bid of $15,675 came from a Japanese collector who chooses to remain anonymous. A U.S. bidder (also remaining anonymous) matched the bid to bring the total to $31,350! The proceeds from the auction will benefit the With you Japan charity founded in 2011 by Sato to benefit the young victims of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 of that year. For more information, check out With you Japan.

Houston History: A.J. Foyt began racing stock cars in 1951 (and later midgets) at Playland Park, a quarter-mile dirt track adjacent to the amusement park that was located on Main St between Westridge and Murworth. Today, the area has apartment buildings and a parking lot for NRG Park. Foyt last drove race cars in Houston at the Astrodome on an indoor 1/5-mi. dirt oval. In four USAC midget races, he finished second and flipped (inaugural doubleheader in 1969), won in 1970 and finished fifth in 1972. Houstonian Jim Greer, who continues to support A.J.’s team, went partners with Foyt’s dad Tony to buy A.J. his first midget circa 1951-1952.