A driver from Japan was honored in the Motor City for winning the biggest race in the world, right down the road in Indianapolis.
That’s what made this year’s Borg-Warner “Baby Borg” presentation as part of the Automotive News World Congress dinner at the North American International Auto Show so unique.
Takuma Sato of Tokyo drove to victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500 on May 28 in an Andretti Autosport Honda. Sato received his latest gift Wednesday night at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit from BorgWarner Inc. president and CEO James Verrier. Winning team owner of Michael Andretti was awarded his fifth “Baby Borg” as Indy 500 champion team owner.
“It still never gets old,” Andretti told Autoweek. “I know this business, and it can be very cruel. It can be a long time before we ever get back up here. I hope not. We are working very hard as a team to get back up here, but it’s a funny business.
“You have to enjoy it while you can because you don’t know when the next time we will be here.”
The “Baby Borg” is an 18-inch miniature version on a 4-inch base of the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy. That trophy is 5-feet-4-3/4ths of an inch tall and is a showcased at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the year.
BorgWarner has presented the “Baby Borg” every year since Rick Mears scored the third of his fourth Indy 500 wins in 1988. He was awarded that trophy in 1989.
Wednesday night, the Borg-Warner Trophy was center stage as Sato and Andretti received their personal trophies — the long and short of an outstanding career accomplishment for Sato.
“I never could imagine this long journey, and the fact it is only four months away from the next Indy 500 and I’m still celebrating and getting the “Baby Borg” tonight,” Sato told Autoweek. “It’s been quite a journey.
“Big thank you to Michael Andretti and all of Andretti Autosport. We won together, and even though we won’t be competing for each other this year, we won the Indy 500 together. This is a celebration for this special moment. We are with different teams this year, but that has nothing to do with it.
“Tonight, this one is for me and Michael and the boys at Andretti Autosport.”
When Andretti began negotiating with Chevrolet midway through last season, Sato and his representatives began negotiating with other Honda teams. Sato has a contract with Honda, and by the time Andretti decided to remain as a Honda team, Sato had already reached an agreement with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing beginning this season.
So, in a sense, Wednesday night was a bit bittersweet for both.
“I’m disappointed he is not driving for us this year; it’s a little strange being here with this situation, but that’s the way it goes,” Andretti said. “With Takuma, I really like the guy a lot. He’s a great guy. The reasons why he is not here had nothing to do with Takuma.
“I’m very happy with our lineup with four American drivers in 2018, and that is pretty cool. That is done by accident, but I’m happy with the way that has turned out.”
Andretti earned his fifth Indianapolis 500 victory as a team owner, each with a different driver. Andretti also was the winning owner in 2005 with Dan Wheldon, 2007 with Dario Franchitti, 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2016 with Alexander Rossi.
Ironically, three of those five winners were with different teams the following year. Wheldon left for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006, Franchitti left for Ganassi’s NASCAR team in 2008 and Sato in 2018.
Andretti is tied with Chip Ganassi for second on the all-time Indianapolis 500 victory list among team owners. Four of Ganassi’s wins came as owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, with the fifth as co-owner of Pat Patrick Racing in 1989. Roger Penske leads all owners with 16 victories in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’
This was the first time a driver from Japan was on stage at the ‘Motor City’ to celebrate the Indy 500 victory.
“It was cool to win the 100th running in 2016 and be part of that history and then to back it up with the first Japanese winner in a Honda car in the Indy 500, that’s so cool that it was our car,” Andretti said. “I never got to win the Indy 500 as a driver, and maybe I was meant to win it a lot of times as an owner. I’m very happy with this part of my life and feel very fortunate to know that we are a five-time winner as an owner, and hopefully, before I hit the grave, I’ll be knocking on Roger Penske’s record.
“BorgWarner is about history, and it’s great that this tradition is continuing.”
In December, the Borg-Warner Trophy left the United States for the first time in its history that began in 1936. The trophy was part of a two-week celebration tour of Japan where his Indy 500 triumph was extremely well-received.
“I wanted to have the trophy beside me, and the fans loved it,” Sato said. “It was a fantastic two weeks for the fans and for BorgWarner.
“In Japan, we don’t have one Motor City. The manufacturers are all located in different cities but Honda is located in Mia. So to become the first Japanese driver in Detroit to get the “Baby Borg” — it’s quite an honor. To be part of this in Detroit is fantastic.
“This was a special, special moment for us winning the Indianapolis 500.”