Ten years ago, Andretti Autosport rolled into Long Beach looking for a hat-trick. James Hinchcliffe had gotten the team’s 2013 campaign rolling with a win in the curtain-raiser at St Petersburg, and two weeks later, teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay had backed it up with victory at Barber.
The IndyCar field was entering its second year with the new DW12 chassis, and with so many of the car’s secrets still yet to be unlocked, there were opportunities for small teams to make a big impact. This would be borne out over the months ahead: five different teams found their way to Victory Circle before either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing got their first 2013 wins on the board (Helio Castroneves at Texas and Scott Dixon at Pocono, respectively) although Ganassi and Dixon steadied their ship enough to seal the championship with a fifth place at Fontana at the end of the season.
Meanwhile, at A.J. Foyt Racing’s headquarters in Texas, everyone’s primary mission at the start of the year was simply to get to know each other. Over the winter, the team had signed Takuma Sato, who’d just finished his third IndyCar season following a seven-year Formula 1 career, to replace future Le Mans winner Mike Conway; the Brit having decided to stand down from racing on ovals towards the end of 2012.
As the teams set up in the Long Beach paddock ahead of the race weekend, it’s reasonable to assume that Foyt’s team didn’t feature on many radars. Things had gotten off to decent start at St Pete, where Sato finished eighth on his debut in the No.14 Honda, but that result had given way a more anonymous afternoon in the midfield at Barber a fortnight later.
History wasn’t necessarily on the side of team nor driver, either. Sato’s most recent win of any kind had come 12 years earlier in the famed Formula 3 event at Macau. For Foyt, the wait had been almost as long: the team’s last champagne shower had come when Airton Dare found the top step of the podium at the 2002 IRL race at Kansas. Narrow the lens to the last time the team had won on a road or street course and you’re going all the way back to 1978, when A.J. himself was victorious at Silverstone.
It should come as little surprise then that what played out during that third weekend in April of 2013 still resonates a decade later with those who were part of it. Here’s the story of that race in their words.
Takuma Sato (now two-time Indy 500 winner; then driver of A.J. Foyt Racing’s No.14 Honda)
Larry Foyt (president, A.J. Foyt Enterprises)
Don Halliday (now president of Halliday Technologies; then chief engineer, A.J. Foyt Racing)
Raul Prados (now race engineer, Porsche Penske Motorsport; then data/performance engineer, A.J. Foyt Racing)
TAKUMA SATO: My first IndyCar race was in 2010 with KV, and in 2012 I joined Rahal. Then in 2013, Larry Foyt approached me… actually he’d approached me several years earlier and we’d talked, but then the opportunity came for us to get together at the beginning of 2013.
I knew who A.J. Foyt was, but I had never spoken to him. And it was the furthest team I could imagine (for a driver like me) – a Texan team, very American, and I was born in Japan and did all that racing in Europe. So we had completely different backgrounds and different philosophies. But when I met A.J. and Larry and everybody in Houston, I immediately felt like part of it. It was such a warm, family team.
LARRY FOYT: I think the first time we really got to spend time with Takuma was, we had a sponsor appearance – ABC Supply was our primary sponsor at the time and they were celebrating a milestone, and they had leased out an entire cruise ship in the Caribbean. So we were all on this ship, and that was really when I got to know Takuma. We were doing some appearances on this ship, and there was an IndyCar that they had craned onto the boat, and it was very cool.
Takuma and I really hit it off. We were similar in age and we became really good friends; I was on the radio with him… it was just a really good cast of characters at that time. There was Don Halliday, whom I love to this day – he was just perfect for what we had going on. We had some great young engineers like Raul Prados. It was a great feel in the team at that time. We were very small, but we felt like we could punch above our weight.
TAKUMA SATO: Don Halliday, my race engineer… I still call him ‘Dad’, and he calls me ‘Son’. Even to this day, we text each other. We still have this amazing relationship.
DON HALLIDAY: He calls me ‘Dad’ and I call him ‘Son’, because I’m pretty old now (laughs). But I have a very good connection with Takuma, and it really was like a father/son situation. I’ve always felt with any driver, particularly with the racing we do, as an engineer you have a special responsibility to keep them as safe as they can be. I said that to him right at the very beginning, and I think he saw that I had his back, so to speak. And he had the freedom then to do what he was good at doing.
RAUL PRADOS: 2013 was my second year in IndyCar. I moved from England to the U.S. in 2012 with Mike Conway. When Mike joined Foyt, that’s how I joined. Back in my early years I engineered for a team that he drove for, and they were looking to restructure the engineering group at Foyt and Mike recommended me from back in the day. And that’s how I got there.
I was doing data and performance engineering. Don was the one running the car and calling the whole operation, and I was the support engineer for him.
TAKUMA SATO: The first test with the team was at Sebring, and at that point the DW12 was only in its second year and everybody was trying to work it out. That was the time the inerter damper was introduced, as well. Penske and Ganassi had probably already been using it for a year or two. Andretti, too. But for us, it was a very new item.
So at the Sebring test, we found something we were really happy with, and I knew our car would be strong at street courses, because Sebring is bumpy and you basically go there for street course testing.
DON HALLIDAY: We had two engineers, Raul and myself, and Raul covered a lot of the bases, because I wasn’t qualified to cover a lot of the bases that he was covering with data acquisition and all that! I did think it had the potential for us to have a good year, because everyone was starting from around the same point.
LARRY FOYT: Don and Takuma worked together very well, Takuma was very into analyzing the data, and Don was perfect at taking Takuma’s comments and… I love this about Don; the great engineers, they can do this – they’re awesome on the technical side, but they’re also awesome on the mental side. And Don was such a good… you don’t want to call them a psychologist, but they kind of are! They get the best out of the driver mentally. That’s what was so great about Don. He was such an important part of our team on a lot of aspects. Even working with the mechanics… he’s such a great personality. He understands how difficult it is to win at his level, but he knows how to get the best out of everybody.
Don was great for Taku because they believed in each other, and that’s the first step, right? Taku had an idea of what he wanted, and Don knew what he wanted, and together they were really powerful.
RAUL PRADOS: We found something with the dampers, but I think they also changed the tires that year. Or, we believed they changed the tires – we were a small team, so we didn’t have a lot of good information!
But I remember talking to Takuma years after, because I became his race engineer in 2016, and we were talking about that event and he said that they tried a different rear geometry that really suited his driving characteristics and that tire. So that was one of the key things. We believed it was a new tire at the beginning of that season and we were among the first to find a good balance for that. As the season went on, the bigger teams were always going to catch up with us, and that’s exactly what happened.
The difficulty with Foyt at that time was that we were just one car, and when you’re a one-car team it’s always difficult to extract the maximum all the time. When you have two cars, one driver is going to be better in this corner, one of the drivers will be better over here, and the development of the car is going to be split. That was the biggest thing I found when I joined Penske; the amount of development you can do and how much the drivers push each other. That’s something we couldn’t have at the time with Foyt; we only had the one car until Jack came along.
Takuma is extremely good at finding what he’s feeling in the data. We just didn’t have anybody to compare his data with that year. He’s very technical. Honestly, he’s a mega driver. His driving style is very similar to how Will Power drives, now that I’ve seen both of them – the driver inputs, the braking technique… they’re very similar. So I’m not surprised that Taku is quick.