In Driver's Seat: Sato tire changer has two Mid-Ohio roles

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LEXINGTON, Ohio — Timmy Pagliuso welcomes the weekend opportunity for a quick change of racing attire at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

When he’s not performing his normal duties as an inside rear tire changer on Takuma Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200, Pagliuso will make his driving debut in the Cooper Tires USF2000 series races Saturday and Sunday.

It would be an understatement to suggest he’s eager to climb into the No. 77 Legacy Autosport entry sponsored by Metalloid Corporation/Turtle Plastics. The 26-year-old native of Medford, N.J., hasn’t driven in a year due to a lack of funding since completing the Lucas Oil School of Racing.

Now he’s gets his chance in the first step of the developmental Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series.

“No, it’s not just another race weekend,” Pagliuso said. “I would 100 percent describe it as I’m anxious right now. I’m very curious to get back into the seat, then furthermore everything I learn session to session, it’s so important to really grasp it. Then with the turnaround time to get back on the track, grasp it, understand it and reapply it. That’s the only way we’re going to get anywhere this one weekend and progress.”

He’s in his first season working for RLL. Although he tends to keep to himself about his driving aspirations, crew members are well aware of how much this weekend means.

Friends in the paddock also know. They pull him aside to wish him well and reiterate many of the racing basics. Take it one lap at a time. Have a plan. Apply everything learned. Communicate and connect with engineer Nathan Toney.

“The biggest thing for me is just mental preparation,” he said. “Go through every scenario, on and off the track, and just prepare yourself mentally for any aspect.

“Then you just have to know when to turn it on and turn if off for each different avenue that we’re in, whether the car is coming in at you for a pit stop or you’re behind a car trailing and going for a pass. It’s different aspects in racing. The more you mentality prepare, the better off you will be.”

More than anything, he wants to make a good impression for his sponsor and team.

“I met Turtle Plastics a year ago at Mid-Ohio and to come this far in one calendar year and join forces with Legacy, it’s been a Sunday drive. Everything has been smooth,” he said.

His schedule will be admittedly compromised. Take today, for instance. His day began with a USF2000 practice. Sato and NTT IndyCar Series drivers practiced. Then came USF2000 qualifying. And a second Honda Indy 200 practice session.

His Saturday starts with USF2000 qualifying. Sato is on track for a third practice session in the morning, then qualifying begins at 2:30 p.m. Pagliuso’s first race is at 4:05 p.m.

The second USF2000 race is at 11:05 a.m. on Sunday. The Honda Indy 200 (NBC) is at 4 p.m.

“We take the racing suit off and put the pit crew suit back on,” he said. “Give me a gun and we’ll get fast on the rear wheel.”

He didn’t hesitate when asked about which race he would most like to see a victory.

“Oh absolutely, Takuma's,” Pagliuso said. “Even before I worked at Rahal, he’s been a favorite driver of mine that I paid attention to throughout his career. He’s an awesome person off the track. He helps me as a driver with any questions that I have. He comes first.”

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