He seemingly came out of nowhere to snatch third last weekend at Indianapolis, then used his savvy in the rain to charge from ninth to third on Saturday at Detroit.
Suddenly, Takuma Sato is right in the title fight of the NTT IndyCar Series after seven races.
“If it’s a dry race, really tough afternoon because I think Graham (Rahal) and I were a second off the pace. But as soon as we saw the rain, like, yes, there’s opportunity,” said Sato, referring to the shortened race (75 minutes) that was delayed because of thunderstorms.
“It might not turn out to your favor, of course. [But] when you have an opportunity, you have to make most of it.
“I was happy to gain the positions [in] the wet conditions. Even with the dry tire … The guys did a great job; the team did a great pit stop job. We made another position up after few laps of the dry tire. Third was a good result.”
The 42-year-old veteran from Japan drove to a dominating victory at Barber earlier this season, tempering his aggression and, weekend after weekend, taking what his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda has given him.
“If you cannot win, if you get a third car, you get third. If it’s a fifth-place car, you finish fifth. You might be surprised from my mouth to say that,” he said with a grin.
“You are always challenging, always trying to get the maximum points as possible. Last year we had a bad experience at the Indy 500, at Sonoma. Mechanical failure. We lost a bunch of the points. This year, now is the time to collect valuable points. Even if it’s third, I’m really pleased.”
Running fifth on Lap 29, he picked off Ryan Hunter-Reay and Felix Rosenqvist on consecutive laps with a couple of nifty moves to claim that podium spot.
“Obviously nobody wants to be overtaken,” continued the 2017 Indy 500 winner. “I think in the restart, condition is always tight. There is opportunity after the long straight, hairpin on Turn 3. Yeah, I made a move into the inside. We both have half [the car] on the dry line, half on the wet.
“I think Felix did a great job to keep both of our noses clean. We were obviously fighting for the podium position, [it was] going to be hard racing, but I appreciate his great driving. Hopefully it’s all okay.”
All is clearly OK with Mr. Sato as he’s now fourth in the points ahead of both Scott Dixon and Will Power, though 65 points behind today’s race winner Josef Newgarden.
Someone asked him, ‘Was it bittersweet to finish third twice in a row?’
“No, it’s never bad,” he said. “Never bad. I think it’s always great to be on the podium. Of course, as a race car driver, you always want to win. So big congrats to Josef. He did a great job today. Honestly, it’s a team sport. We have to work together. Great credit to the team again, done a great strategy, pit stop.
“We have to find speed, significant speed, for tomorrow. One second, which is a lot. I don’t know how much we can do overnight. For sure, it’s a very clever team of engineers at the Rahal team. Hopefully we can find more speed and tomorrow come up to the front again, even if it’s dry.”