Photo: IndyCar

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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NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.