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Taku pleased with new SA06 on debut despite DNF.

31/07/2006
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OK, so Takuma Sato retired his new Super Aguri-Honda SA06 from the German Grand Prix just after half distance with gearbox problems, but on balance it was an extremely encouraging weekend at Hockenheim for the team, and one which showed that Sato is going to be battling for position with rival teams for the remainder of the season.

"Overall it was a very positive weekend for us," said the Japanese driver. "It was a little disappointing that we lacked some pace in the race, but this is just the first step with the SA06, and with no testing at all we were able to race with the Midland team."

The only running on the SA06 was a brief shakedown at the miniature Silverstone Stowe circuit. "We had a few minor problems but we were able to solve them and do our shakedown," said Sato. "Our first real test was in Friday practice at Hockenheim. On my second run I was already able to do 1m20s, which was good. The car was performing well straight away. Then we had a few problems with hydraulics and I was only able to do an out lap on my new tyres.

"I know how hard it is to bring such a new car to a race. But the SA06 is much more stable than the SA05, especially now that we have the Honda gearbox which is designed for this years Honda engine of course. With the SA05 we were using the original Arrows gearbox, with quite a high output-shaft position, which meant the engine had to be raised. But now the back end is much tidier and we have made a huge step forward with lowering the centre of gravity. Also we have much better installation stiffness for new rear suspension. Everything is improved - high-speed stability, braking, traction. Considering that we are still using the old Arrows tub, which was designed nearly five years ago, it's fantastic."

Taku finally got a chance to try a new-tyre run at the end of Saturday practice, but his endeavours were interrupted and meant he went into qualifying not knowing how the car would react on new tyres through the stadium section at the end of the lap. "On my hot lap I had problems with traffic and on my second lap there were yellow flags and then the session ended."

But Sato managed to pull out the stops in qualifying to split the two Midland-Toyotas, just behind Christijan Albers and ahead of Tiago Monteiro, and finished the session 19th fastest. "That was a nice moment, to realise that real, proper racing is now back on, so I was very pleased."

With other drivers being given grid penalties, Sato actually started the race 17th. "My start was pretty good, similar to the others, and after that I was able to enjoy some exciting side-by-sides with the BMWs, Toro Rossos and a Toyota. Trulli overtook me going into Turn 2, but I re-overtook him going into the hairpin, and then he passed me again before the stadium! I really enjoyed this racing. When things settled after a few laps, Scott Speed started catching me and he passed me quite easily. Then I had to race the two Midlands."

Although Albers got past, Taku was able to successfully fend off Monteiro, despite his tyre performance waning. "Today the track temperature was very high, which unfortunately had a negative effect for our chosen compound. I was losing grip a lot compare to practice or qualifying. But there was good racing with Monteiro. He pitted before me and then I had to push hard before my stop and I exited just ahead of him."

Finally Sato's run came to an end with gearbox problems. Although he was able to carry on for a few laps after losing gearbox oil pressure, he finally had to park the SA06 at the end of its first run.

Next up is the Hungarian Grand Prix next weekend, for which the team has a dedicated aero package. Although there is no testing before the Hungaroring, all the teams are in the same boat so Sato is expecting to make further progress. "I'm very pleased the new car performed well because there are always some failures at this stage, but the SA06 has debuted and shown good manners and performance. I am now really looking forward to getting straight back into racing again next weekend."
 
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