Sato To Drive Second Rahal Letterman Car In ’18

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 20 2017

Takuma Sato will be back in the cockpit of a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda next season. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato will contest the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, where he will answer Graham Rahal’s long-running plea for a fulltime Honda teammate.

Sato drove for RLLR in 2012, a season highlighted by his wheel-banging, final-lap Indianapolis 500 duel with eventual race-winner Dario Franchitti of Chip Ganassi Racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sato spun upon contact with Franchitti, a four-time series champion, and finished 17th after leading 31 laps.

Sato erased that mistake by winning the 101st edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 28 driving the No. 26 Honda for Andretti Autosport. 

“I’m excited about having Taku back with us,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with former CBS Late Show host David Letterman and Mi-Jack co-owner Mike Lanigan.  “I have such admiration for his spirit and how he approaches everything and was so happy for him when he won the Indy 500 this year.”

An IndyCar Series journeyman, Sato became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 by fending off three-time race-winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet by 0.2011-seconds. It was the sixth-closest finish in Indy 500 history. Sato grabbed the lead from Castroneves for good on Lap 195 of the 200-lapper with a pass down the 2.5-mile Speedway’s front straight. Sato led twice for 17 laps to score the second consecutive victory, and fifth overall at IMS, for the team owned by Michael Andretti.

“The chance to bring (Sato) back to the team was too good to pass up,” said Rahal, a three-

Japan’s Takuma Sato, the winner of the 2017 Indy 500, is switching teams for 2018.

time Championship Auto Racing Teams champ and winner of the 1986 Indy 500. “He and Graham get along very well and we will have two strong cars that can win any race in 2018. I think that will give our team a great chance at being contenders in every race, but it’s also going to give each of our drivers a chance to have their best years ever. I’m excited about it and even though the 2017 season just concluded, I can’t wait for the 2018 season to start.”

Graham Rahal swept the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader weekend at Belle Isle June 3-4 in his No. 15 Honda to score his fifth and sixth career series victories. Rahal, 28, also has three career poles. Rahal often has cited the lack of a teammate with whom to share information as a hindrance to RLLR as it competes with the multi-car organizations fielded by Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing from the Honda camp and Team Penske in the OEM rival Chevrolet camp.

Sato’s move to LRR was widely rumored as the 2017 season wound to its conclusion Sunday at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. Rahal finished sixth and Sato placed eighth in the final point standings that crowned Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet as a first-time champion.

“I am extremely happy to be back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” Sato said in a statement from the team’s headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind.  “Bobby, Dave and Mike have always been very supportive of me. The team has been ultra-competitive the past few seasons. I can’t wait to be a part of it in 2018.  I think we can achieve some great things together.”

A 40-year-old native of Tokyo, Japan, Sato has made 135 IndyCar Series starts since his rookie season in 2010 with KV Racing Technology. Sato moved to RLLR in 2012 and placed 14th in the point standings after finishing second at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and third at Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Sato drove for AJ Foyt Racing from 2013-2016, winning the prestigious Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach street race in 2013 for the open-wheel icon. In addition, Sato has earned seven Indy car poles and led a total of 471 laps.

Prior to joining the IndyCar Series, Sato competed in 90 races in the FIA Formula One World Championship between 2002-2008, scoring a best finish of third for Lucky Strike BAR Honda in the 2004 United States Grand Prix on the IMS road-course.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 20 2017
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