Sato looking to pay back RLL for career support with Indy 500 victory

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There are few people in the IndyCar paddock more kind and humble than Takuma Sato.

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has been a favorite among fans for his ‘no attack, no chance’ philosophy and aggressive driving style.

But Sato is also known as one of the most approachable drivers in the series, and he enters the 103rd running of the Indy 500 looking to give back to long-time supporters with another strong showing in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“There’s no easy way [to win the race], obviously,” Sato told NBC Sports. “I think it’s going to be quite challenging. We will compete with high hopes. I believe we are very capable of being very competitive on Sunday.”

With five races complete in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Sato currently sits fifth in the points standings after three top 10 finishes, including a dominant win from the pole at Barber Motorsports Park where he led 74 of 90 laps.

Though there is not much of a comparison between the road and street courses that make up the first five races of the schedule, Sato said that a great start of the season can relieve a considerable amount of stress when entering the month of May.

“In terms of the team’s morale and motivation and just the overall environment, it’s more comfortable,” Sato said. “You enter the month of May with high hopes. I think everything works better when you have a good start.”

Sato knows what it’s like to have a great month of May in Indianapolis. He qualified fourth in 2017 for Andretti Autosport after showing speed all month and led 17 laps, including the final six, to become the 71st different driver to win the 500.

The victory was the biggest of his career. But despite winning one of the biggest events in sports, Sato didn’t want the victory to be all about him.

“Obviously, I felt such great satisfaction [by winning], but also it was such a nice way to give back to the people who have been supporting me for a long time. Fans, sponsors, family. To share such a fantastic moment together was probably the biggest thing for me.”

Now, Sato hopes to share another Indy win with Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan, the same three men whom he drove for in the 2012 race – in which he made a daring attempt to pass Dario Franchitti on the inside for the lead on the final lap.

Unfortunately for Sato, he lost control, spun, and hit the wall. But despite his defeat, Sato did not lose any support from his team.

“Mike Lanigan has been such a huge supporter of mine since 2012,” Sato said. “We’ve had a great relationship since then. Even when I was racing with different teams, he’d always come and congratulate me and cheer for me.

“When I finally came back to race for Bobby and Mike last year, I was really happy to carry his Mi-Jack sponsorship. The company was founded by his father, and unfortunately Mike’s father passed away this year, so he wanted to have a tribute for his father.”

In honor of the late Lanigan, Sato’s Indy 500 entry will sport Mi-Jack’s red and yellow colors in a livery similar to the one Conquest Racing ran during the mid-2000s, when Mike was the team’s co-owner.

Although Sato stated that he looks forward to Sunday’s race and is hopeful he runs well, he acknowledges that a good finish at the Brickyard requires an error-free performance. Sato will start from the 14th position.

“Everything has to be perfect,” Sato said. “You need a strong team, a fast car, good driver and even a little bit of luck. Every single piece of the puzzle needs to come together to become a winner. Winning the 500 is just so special.

“Obviously everyone wants to win, and so do I. Hopefully we can pull off another great win.”

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Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other and four more finished the race – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

“Amazed is the right word,” Honda Performance Development president David Salters said when asked about reliability. “These are sophisticated cars. It’s not easy. It’s a testament to each group that they did a really good job. It was a fight all the way through the race. I didn’t expect that at all.”

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car. Salters said his

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021 — also in an Acura, which now has three consecutive Rolex 24s). Peter Gregg won the Rolex 24 in 1973, ’75 and ’76 (the 1974 race wasn’t held because of the oil crisis).

Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.