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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Indy Lights: Askew clinches 2019 title while VeeKay wins Laguna Seca race 1

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MONTEREY, Calif – Rinus VeeKay may have won the first race of the weekend’s Indy Lights doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Saturday afternoon, but all all eyes post-race were all on the driver who finished the race in the fourth position.

That driver was Oliver Askew, who by simply starting the 30-lap event at the famed road course won the 2019 series title, along with the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series scholarship that guarantees a minimum of three races next season.

“It’s all sinking in,” Askew told NBC Sports following the race. “I’m really happy to be part of this team. They’re back to back champions now in Indy Lights, and I feel very fortunate to be driving in this car this year.

“This is what we worked for all year. I’m very happy to be in this position and I can’t wait to celebrate with my team.”

With the championship in Askew’s possession from the get-go, the best VeeKay could do for in race 1 was to win in dominant fashion. He went on to do just so.

After starting the race from the pole position, VeeKay led every lap from start to finish en route to his fifth victory of the season.

“We managed the car well and kept the car consistent throughout the whole race,” VeeKay said. “I got a great car from the team so I want to give a big shout out to them for giving me a winning car.”

Behind VeeKay, Portland race 2 winner Toby Sowery finished the race in the second position, while Robert Megennis finished third.

Live streaming coverage of race two of the Indy Lights doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca begins tomorrow afternoon at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold.

Click here for full race results

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter