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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Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.