Takuma Sato, the missing link for Bobby Rahal's team?

One year after a real nightmare at Indianapolis (only three cars qualified out of the four entered), Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing called on Takuma Sato, two-time winner of the event, to help turn around its Indy 500 program.

Published on 16/05/2024 à 14:28

Michael Duforest

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Takuma Sato, the missing link for Bobby Rahal's team?

© Penske Entertainment: Joe Skibinski

For Takuma Sato, this is already his third period with the stable of Bobby Rahal, Mike Lanigan and David Letterman. In 2012, the Japanese joined the team for just one season, but that almost saw him win the Indy 500! Attempting to overtake Dario Franchitti in the first corner of the final lap, Sato lost control before hitting the wall. The association met in 2018, and this time for four years.

In 2020, Sato touches the holy grail for a second time, by winning the Indy 500. In 2024, the two-time winner of the event finds a team with a competitiveness very different from when he took leave three years ago . Only Katherine Legge managed to climb into the top 30 last year in qualifying, leaving her teammates (present full-time in IndyCar) Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey and Graham Rahal will battle with Sting Ray Robb for the three remaining places in the peloton. Ultimately it was Graham Rahal who failed to qualify, although he was later able to drive in the race, replacing Stefan Wilson at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

This Wednesday, during the second day of testing for the 108th edition of the Indianapolis 500, Sato was the fastest on the “no tow list”. This somewhat special list lists the best times achieved without the aid of an aspiration. Indeed, at the Indy 500, the best times of each day are always achieved with the help of aspiration, which allows you to drive faster in a straight line, without losing too much in the turns. A result which may surprise given Rahal's difficulties in the exercise in 2023, but which is necessary.

His teammates concentrate on the race

“It's nice to be at the top of the standings without aspirations, but that's mainly because we were working on some aspects of pure speed. We're mainly trying to simulate qualifying, because the team had a very difficult year in 2023, so we really needed to find some pure speed. We had some experimental stuff, and we probably hit 80% of what we wanted to test. So the day was very productive”, explained Sato yesterday, after the tests.

Although Indianapolis represents the only race on the Tokyo native's schedule, the addition of a two-time winner is invaluable to the team. If his teammates focus on riding in a peloton, to prepare for the race, it is now essential to focus on qualifying. Indeed, this is an aspect that can sometimes be forgotten by those involved, but without sufficient speed, non-qualification can rear its ugly head... and therefore make all the work on race pace obsolete!

“We've tried a very different setup philosophy than last year, so everything is experimental, and there's never enough time! We rely on my teammates to find good settings for the race, and vice versa, I concentrate more on the mechanical aspect, on the desire to have a car that goes fast, quite simply. I think the team is much more satisfied than last year in any case. For me, the car isn't where I want it yet, but I see some promising signs. We will see in the coming days if we can still gain speed. »

There is still work to be done for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but it seems that all the work done since May 2023 could potentially bear fruit...

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