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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Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III