Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has confirmed Takuma Sato as their first driver for the upcoming IZOD IndyCar Series and their full-time return to the series.
Sato – a veteran of 91 Formula One starts before joining KV Racing in 2010 – initially struggled in his rookie season, regularly crashing, before turning things right around last season, taking two poles at Iowa and Edmonton, regularly running and finishing in the Top 10 and making himself a valuable commodity among the teams up and down pit lane. Race wins were touted as the next step and one that was not far off.
With KV committing itself early to a Chevrolet engine contract for the 2012 season, this left Sato in a tricky situation with a long-standing sponsor in Honda, and he was forced to look elsewhere for his drive, ideally with a team already signed up with Honda or one likely to. Rahal Letterman Lanigan aligned itself with Honda, and immediately pundits were mentioning Sato’s name. Today’s announcement confirms yet another “worst-kept secret” within the IndyCar community.
“RLL is extremely pleased to welcome Takuma to our IndyCar Series team for 2012, and we anticipate having a very strong season together. While we were determined to have an experienced driver for this season, we also needed someone that knew how to get to the front and Takuma has shown that he can do that, and we expect to have a great opportunity to win races this year,” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal.
The return to full-time involvement in the series will hopefully add to an enviable success record for the team. Prior to 2009 when the team briefly left the series, RLL had finished the previous eleven seasons with a driver in the Top-10 in the drivers championship. In addition to this, RLL cars have finished in the Top-10 in more than half of the 587 starts in its history. Becoming the latest driver to hopefully add to this tally, which includes victory in the 2004 Indianapolis 500, Sato was eager to get to work ensuring his new car will be able to challenge for wins from the beginning of the season.
“I’m very proud, motivated and excited to be chosen by Bobby to join his big project. This team I feel has got huge potential. It has got a great history and record of winning so my motivation is ever so high and I am extremely thrilled to start the new season. With a new car for everybody, I am confident that we’ll be up to speed very quickly.”
[Article by Matt Lennon; original image via Getty Images]