DETROIT - When Takuma Sato won the Indianapolis 500 last year, owner Michael Andretti understood right away how significant the victory was.
“His drive was phenomenal. He drove his way to the front there in the last 10 laps. He won that thing for us. We gave him a good car, but he drove it there, and it was big,” Andretti said Wednesday. “I knew when he crossed that finish line that this is a big win, this is a historic win — being the first Japanese driver, driving a Honda, it was huge, and I’m so glad he was able to win it in our car.”
Sato won’t be driving for Andretti Autosport this season — he’s back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing — but Sato and Andretti were both in Detroit for Wednesday night’s ceremony in which last year’s Indy 500 winners received their “Baby Borg” trophies. Sato was the first driver from Japan to win the prestigious race, and the months since have offered plenty of chances to reflect and celebrate.
“The fact is it’s January now,” Sato said. “It’s only four months away to the next Indy 500, and still we are receiving the trophy tonight, so it’s an absolute honor.”
The Baby Borgs are replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy that honors the Indy 500 winner. The big trophy — which is over 5 feet tall (152 cm), including its base — was brought to Japan late last year for festivities celebrating Sato’s victory. That was a highlight for the 40-year-old driver, but the 2018 season is coming up soon.
“Can’t wait to get to the car,” he said. “It’s going to be a special feeling when you go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May as the defending champion. I can’t imagine how it’s going to be like.”
He’ll be with a different team.
Sato was with Rahal in 2012 and nearly won the Indy 500 that year. He spent last season with Andretti but needed a contingency plan in case Andretti moved to Chevrolet for this year. Sato has a strong alliance with Honda.
Andretti ended up staying with Honda, but Sato agreed to a deal with Rahal.
“I miss Takuma. I think he was a lot of fun having on the team, and it’s a shame that he’s not going to be driving with us next year,” Andretti said. “With him, I have no problems. It’s his management.”
Sato is looking forward to competing for owner Bobby Rahal during this season.
“Very appreciative with Michael, and the entire Andretti Autosport made it happen in 2017, but Bobby has been a big supporter of me after 2012, and we had to go different ways, but he’s been always supportive,” Sato said. “Entire 2017 season, he wanted me back home, his team, and all those things come together, so I think 2018 will be a great season for everyone.”
Andretti’s Indy 500 win last year was his fifth as a car owner and third in the past four years. He also won in 2016 with Alexander Rossi.