The Indianapolis 500 could make or break a driver’s profession; everyone seems to be in search of a life-changing prize purse, a coveted top-10 end to safe a trip for the next yr, a breakout onto the massive stage, or a history-making win, however not everybody’s path to the Best Spectacle in Racing is identical. That was by no means extra obvious than the contrasting mindsets I noticed in back-to-back round-table interviews with drivers at two completely different ends of the grid: Takuma Sato and Katherine Legge.
In 2023, there are loads of similarities between the 2 drivers. Each had been tackling the Indy 500 as a part of a massively restricted schedule; for Legge, it might be her solely race, whereas Sato’s 500 run was paired with one different outing at Texas Motor Speedway. Each had been utilizing the 2023 Indy 500 as a chance to achieve some consideration and hopefully return to the IndyCar paddock sooner or later.
However after Carb Day observe had completed and because the race approached, Sato and Legge couldn’t have approached the race extra in another way.
Our round-table with Sato was instantly adopted by the one with Legge, which solely served to focus on the variations. Sato arrived recent from the automobile, nonetheless carrying his race overalls, and spoke to the amassed journalists with a captivating leisure and readability of thoughts. He offered the group with a full technique for a way he’d win the race, how he anticipated to tackle technique, the place he needed to be position-wise throughout a number of completely different factors of the race. As a part of the four-car Chip Ganassi Racing group, Sato was nicely positioned. Teammate Alex Palou had certified on pole, whereas the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing automobile of Marcus Ericsson had gained the yr earlier than. Paired with Scott Dixon’s experience, Sato had a fantastic alternative to compete for a win.
Sato’s confidence shone by immediately, as he advised us that he had “accomplished nearly 90 % of what we needed” in Carb Day observe.
“For me, the tougher and difficult circumstances means extra of an opportunity for us at Chip Ganassi Racing,” he stated. “We had a debrief, and I feel all 4 of us are getting good knowledge, and I’m assured we are able to handle higher [than the competition].”
Sato then went on to stipulate his plan for the race. He recognized tire put on as a major issue for the 2023 occasion, that means that rubber administration could be essential in correct pit cease timings and battles by the sphere. He famous the strengths of his teammates and what he had realized from them throughout observe as a result of, in Sato’s phrases, “I wasn’t essentially robust; it takes time to turn into assured and know what to do.” He described his technique in single automobile visitors, then famous that after 20 laps on a set of tires, it might take at the least two laps for a automobile to arrange a reliable go. Even when he didn’t begin out assured in the beginning of the Month of Could, Sato conveyed a large quantity of assurance in himself and the capabilities of his group. I received the impression that he may have gotten proper again behind the wheel and brought the inexperienced flag as quickly because the interview ended.
From the second she walked by the door, Legge carried a a lot completely different demeanor. After a automobile failure in qualifying, she arrived wearing a pair of leggings and a team-branded jersey, having already had time to vary. She didn’t fairly have a method for the race a lot as she had a plan for survival and a determined want that the Month of Could’s observe gremlins would depart her alone on race day. Whereas she had out-qualified her teammates, the three different Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entries had been compelled to battle for the ultimate three locations on the grid — and her teammate Graham Rahal had been bumped. With a lot stress on the struggling group’s shoulders, Legge answered questions slowly, after a number of lengthy seconds of deliberation, and with a good quantity of self-deprecation.
“I don’t actually keep in mind what occurred 10 years in the past,” she stated, referring to the final time she had began the Indy 500. “Do you keep in mind 10 years in the past, what automobile you had been driving and the way it felt? Except you’re driving the identical automobile now, by which case, I’m sorry, you undoubtedly shouldn’t be.”
Legge identified that, in 2023, it felt like she was racing for a Components 1 group, not an IndyCar group, because of the speedy will increase in know-how.
However when requested about her prep for Sunday, Legge hesitated.
“We preserve having issues thrown at us, which suggests we’re probably not getting any observe,” she admitted. She famous that she hadn’t been in a position to run in visitors or simulate a full race-ready tire cycle, and the shortage of observe time had impacted the group’s prep.
“We’re fighting pace,” she admitted. “We’re getting drag from someplace, and we don’t know the place. We’re all perplexed, as a result of we now have some good folks and good drivers, and we’ve all been working nicely collectively, however we’re simply undecided why we’re the place we’re. We will’t fathom it, and we’re out of time.”
Legge turned to the journalists then, joking, “If anyone is aware of, please inform me.”
As each round-table interviews wrapped up, I couldn’t cease fascinated with simply how completely different every driver had been. With the would possibly of a top-tier group at his again, Sato felt in a position to full his pre-race rundown of the automobile to be able to have it ready for Sunday. As an alternative of worrying about pace, he may deal with the trivialities of securing a profitable run to the end. Legge, alternatively, was about to start out an occasion with no true understanding of what her automobile may do. She couldn’t plan for the end; she may solely hope for the most effective.
When the checkered flag flew on the 2023 Indy 500, Legge had lengthy since retired. She made it 41 laps earlier than the automobile was introduced again to the garages, making her the primary non-finisher of the day — and in addition classifying her in useless final. Sato, who had certified eighth, completed only one place larger. Whether or not or not that’s sufficient to safe both driver a shot within the 2024 operating of the occasion stays to be seen, however absolutely their mindsets heading into this yr’s race will assist them start getting ready for subsequent yr.