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Sato impresses on return to Rahal Letterman Lanigan in Phoenix test

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Takuma Sato’s original tenure with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2012 showed promise, the combination scoring two podiums together that year, but was marred by several crashes, most infamously a last-lap crash at the Indianapolis 500 as Sato battled for the win with Dario Franchitti.

Sato’s return to RLL may also prove to be memorable, but if the Verizon IndyCar Series’ open test at ISM Raceway at Phoenix is any indication, it may be memorable for much better reasons.

Put simply, Sato was in dominant form during testing, going fastest in three of four sessions completed between Friday and Saturday, along with turning the fastest lap of the weekend at an average speed of 189.855 mph.

While acknowledging there remains a lot to learn, Sato was very upbeat about his debut performance with the team.

“The open test was very successful, I would say,” Sato revealed. “There were a lot of things to do, and lots of things to be tried. I think over the course of two days we learned a lot. The new car is great, definitely more exercise for the drivers, definitely busier with low downforce. We did qualifying simulations and race traffic runs. I think the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team is really strong, so I’m really looking forward to two more road course tests and hopefully we’ll be ready for (the season opener) in St. Petersburg.”

Teammate Graham Rahal, who was also very quick and was fastest during the Friday night session, was equally upbeat about Sato’s performance, especially as it relates to improving the entire program.

“I think it’s already helping,” Rahal asserted in an interview with NBCSN pit reporter Katie Hargitt during streaming coverage for the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. “Our comments are very similar to one another, which is good. He’s got Eddie Jones over there, who’s been my engineer the last few years and Eddie’s an amazing guy and a great engineer and I think he’s really going to help Takuma a lot, as he did (with) me.”

Rahal added that Sato has remained close with the Rahals even after departing the team in 2012, and that close relationship has helped them immediately gel back together.

“My Dad and Takuma always had a very close relationship. And even when he left, even before last year when he went to Andretti Autosport, he was trying to put a deal together to come back to Dad. So, they’ve been very, very close. Steve Fusek, who manages Taku, he’s a great friends of ours. It was the right fit for us.”

Further, Rahal asserted that Sato’s positive spirit is a perfect fit within the team and adds to the strong working relationship that already exists within the team.

“Takuma is such a happy spirit, he’s a guy who’s always smiling, a guy that I think can really rally the troops around him. And that’s important for the fit of our team,” Rahal finished. “Our guys are all really relaxed. Everybody has fun here. I think that’s why we’ve had success. And whoever slotted into that second car needed to fit that mold. And I think we’ve been fortunate that it has worked.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has two more tests, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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NBC Sports presents IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama Sunday live at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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From NBC Sports Group PR:

* Sunday’s Pre-Race Coverage Begins with IndyCar Live Presented by Verizon at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

* Pre-Race Coverage Includes Robin Miller Feature on Rookie Zach Veach, Following Career-Best Fourth-Place Finish at Long Beach

* CNBC Presents Live Qualifying Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, Airs on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET

STAMFORD, Conn. – April 19, 2018 – NBC Sports continues its coverage of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend from Barber Motorsports Park with live coverage of the Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Pre-race coverage begins with IndyCar Live presented by Verizon at 3 p.m. ET.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) delivered a dominant performance at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend, winning the pole and leading wire-to-wire for his third career victory, and third consecutive podium finish to start the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign. Rossi currently leads Josef Newgarden (Penske) in the driver standings by 24 points. Newgarden won last year’s Grand Prix of Alabama, his second career win at Barber, while Rossi finished fifth.

This weekend’s live coverage from Barber Motorsports Park begins Saturday at 4 p.m. ET with qualifying on CNBC. NBCSN will air qualifying on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Sunday’s pre-race coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET with IndyCar Live presented by Verizon and will take place from the grid in the lead up to the command, bringing viewers even closer to the action prior to the race.

Pre-race coverage will include a feature by IndyCar on NBC pit reporter Robin Miller on rookie driver Zach Veach, who’s coming off a career-best fourth place finish at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Lead IndyCar play-by-play commentator Leigh Diffey will call this weekend’s Grand Prix of Alabama, analysts Paul Tracy and Townsend BellMarty Snider, Robin Miller, Kevin Lee, and Katie Hargitt will report from the pits.

NBCSN will also present coverage of the Indy Lights race from Alabama late night on Monday, April 23, at 1:30 a.m. ET. Current IndyCar driver Conor Daly will join the NBCSN booth for the race broadcast, alongside Kevin Lee and Anders Krohn, with Katie Hargitt reporting from the pits.

Following is this weekend’s IndyCar schedule on NBCSN and CNBC:

Date Coverage Network Time (ET)
Sat., April 21 Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying LIVE CNBC 4 p.m.
Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying (Encore) NBCSN 6:30 p.m.
Sun., April 22 IndyCar Live presented by Verizon NBCSN 3 p.m.
Grand Prix of Alabama NBCSN 3:30 p.m.
IndyCar Post-Race NBCSN 5:30 p.m.
Mon., April 23 Grand Prix of Alabama (Encore) NBCSN 12 p.m.
Indy Lights – Alabama NBCSN 1:30 a.m.

NBC SPORTS GROUP AND INDYCAR PARTNER ON COMPREHENSIVE, MULTI-YEAR MEDIA RIGHTS AGREEMENT

On March 21, NBC Sports Group and INDYCAR announced a new, multi-year media rights agreement in which NBC Sports acquired the rights to present all INDYCAR races, qualifying, practices, and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019.

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC, with all remaining races televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Details of NBC Sports’ 2019 INDYCAR schedule will be announced at a later date.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer product – will offer a package to INDYCAR fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised live, all Indy Lights races, and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date. Click here for more information.


VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES ON NBCSPORTS.COM AND THE NBC SPORTS APP

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value to their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app are powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.