INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens

Takuma Sato back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in 2020

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MONTEREY, California – Team owner Bobby Rahal has solidified his 2020 NTT IndyCar Series lineup by announcing a contract extension with 101stIndianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato for another season at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Rahal also said in an exclusive interview that as each day passes, it is becoming more unlikely that he will be able to expand to a three-driver team next season.

“With each passing day, the reality becomes less that we will have one,” Rahal told NBCSports.com. “I don’t think it’s a dead issue at this stage, but if something is going to happen, it has to happen pretty quickly.

“We would like to, but only if it is right. I’m not interested in having a third car, just to say we have a third car.”

Sato has won three races with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the last two seasons, including victories in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in April and the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at WeatherTech Raceway at Gateway in August.

He is a five-time IndyCar Series winner.

“He has developed a good relationship with engineer Eddie Jones, and they have had some pretty good races this year,” Rahal said. “They’ve had some that could have been better, but that is like anything in racing. Takuma is a very committed guy. There is some good chemistry between he and Eddie, and the team and it has produced some results.”

Sato again will team up with fellow driver Graham Rahal.

“The challenge we face for both Graham and Takuma is to be more consistent,” Bobby Rahal said. “We seem to be hot and cold. One weekend we are hot and the next weekend we are cold. If you look at Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, they are pretty consistent. We need to figure out how to be that kind of a team. Our processes need to be better and that is our commitment to each other over the offseason, how to generate that consistency to fight for wins every race in the championship.”

At 42, Sato is one of the oldest drivers in the series, but he continues to get better. When he first arrived in the IndyCar Series in 2010, Sato had blazing speed but often drove over the edge.

Simply put, he crashed a lot.

In recent years, Sato has been able to harness that speed, and it has helped him excel. He has a better understanding of the racecraft.

“He is making a lot fewer mistakes than he used to make,” Rahal said. “Some of that is having confidence in the car and the team. People forget, I retired when I was 45 and was still finishing on the podium. Takuma still has some good years left to win races and get on the podium.

“He works very hard off track. Sometimes, I think too hard to be honest because he is a very busy guy. We like him being on the team and having him as part of the team.”

Sato splits his time between his home in Tokyo with his family and his racing family in the United States. That makes him the most well-traveled driver in the series.

“Takuma was fundamental in NTT becoming the sponsor of the series,” Rahal said. “A lot of people don’t know that. He spends a lot of time in Japan taking care of his sponsors and it is demanding for sure.

“I think he travels too much. But, he’s not afraid to do it.”

He is also very popular with the sponsors on the team.

“Everybody likes Takuma,” Rahal said. “It’s fun to be around him.”

Sato first joined the team in 2012 and returned in 2018.  He has earned five wins in the series to date, three of which coming with the team.  The 2020 season will be his third consecutive with RLL, and fourth overall.

“I am very happy to continue our path together again after this season,” Sato said. “Every single member of the team is extremely loyal and have given me unbelievable support. I truly feel at home here and I am so proud of the team. We have had another great season this year and even had some tough times, but it only made our relationship stronger. I can’t thank Bobby, Mike (Lanigan), David (Letterman) and the entire team enough and I am looking forward to finishing the season strong and also looking forward to 2020.”

Sato has made 168 starts in the IndyCar Series since his rookie season in 2010.  His Indy car highlights include wins in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, 2018 Portland Grand Prix, 2019 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and Bommarito 500 at WWT Raceway, with three of the five coming with RLL.

Of his 12 podium finishes to date, eight have come with RLL and he has earned nine Indy car poles, two of which are with RLL.  Prior to joining the IndyCar Series, he competed in 90 Formula One races between 2002-2008 with his highest finish of third at the 2004 United States Grand Prix.

Adam Cianciarulo serves notice with Monster Energy Cup win

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In his debut on a 450 Kawasaki, Adam Cianciarulo held off teammate Eli Tomac in a hotly contested final Main to win the Monster Energy Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium: One race; one win.

“My first thought was, ‘what I life I get to live,’ ” Cianciarulo told NBCSN after the race. “That whole race I knew (Eli) was behind me. We had a gap and I knew it was going to come down to the Joker Lane.”

For Cianciarulo, it was all about managing pressure. He earned the holeshot in the first and final Mains. In the first race, he lost his bike and the lead under the bridge. In the final Main, he withstood a fierce charge for 10 laps from one of the best riders ever in Supercross.

Tomac stalked Cianciarulo for eight laps. At one point, he made the pass, but Cianciarulo expertly executed a crossover move and retook the point in the same corner. Tomac knew he was going to have to change things up if he wanted to make a pass for the lead and the overall win.

“Going into the Joker, I couldn’t really ever make the pass stick, so I thought let me get in this thing a lap early and see if I can make the speed up on the track,” Tomac said after the race.

He had a reason to believe it would turn out in his favor because he used the tactic in the second Main and made up four spots on the track – advancing from seventh to fourth.

“Just the opportunity to race with Eli,” Cianciarulo continued from Victory Lane. “You know, he’s accomplished so much and just to be out there on the track with him. I’m just stoked to be out there with him.”

Cianciarulo would have been forgiven if he thought Las Vegas owed him something. Entering the Supercross season finale this year, he only needed a clean finish to win the 250 West championship. He crashed and handed the win over to Dylan Ferrandis, but instead of allowing that to frustrate him, Cianciarulo used it as motivation.

“(Winning this race) is a little bit of redemption, but to be honest with you I look at (the accident in) Vegas now after winning the outdoor motocross championship as something that helped me get there,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s helped me grow.”

With his overall win, Cianciarulo pocketed a $100,000 check. The payday could have been $1 million if any rider had been able to win all three Mains. Instead, three Mains featured three different riders. Tomac won the first Main, Malcolm Stewart the second, and Cianciarulo the third.

Tomac stormed to the lead in the first Main and was slicing through the field in Main 2 before he flipped his bike on a bad landing. He fell from challenging for the lead to 10th. Ten laps does not allow a lot of time to make up for a mistake, but Tomac was able to make up significant time by taking the Joker Lane one lap before Cianciarulo and Stewart.

Malcolm Stewart finished third in his return to Supercross racing. SupercrossLive.com

Stewart would win the second Main, completing a comeback nine months in the making. Early in the Supercross season, he crashed hard in Phoenix and broke his femur.

“I’ve been waiting nine months for all this; I’m just having fun out there.” Stewart said at the end of Main 2. “We’ve got another race to go and hopefully we’re on the top step, but if not, we’re already making dreams come true. I’ve already marked things off my checklist. It was just to win a Main Event.”

Entering the final Main Cianciarulo, Tomac, and Stewart were in a dead heat in regard to points. Cianciarulo finished second in the first two Mains, Tomac had a 1-3 with Stewart at a 3-1. The battle would be a “winner takes all” scenario.

How they finished in the final Main determined the overall result with Stewart finishing third in the race and overall standings.

Vince Friese had the ride of his life. With a 4-5-5, he finished fourth.

Friese was also trying to erase an injury-plagued season.

“I had a good (2019) season going,” Friese said. “I don’t think I got to show everything I had. It was frustrating getting hurt just a few races in and five months off the motorcycle is not fun, so I was hungry tonight.”

The World Champion Tim Gajser scored a 7-4-4 and rounded out the top five.

Dean Wilson crashed hard in the last lap of practice. He was transported to the hospital with a leg injury.

Evan Ferry won the Supermini division on the strength of winning both Mains. Gavin Towers and Myles Gilmore rounded out the top three.

In 250 Futures, Jett Lawrence won both Mains and the overall. Jalek Swoll and Brock Papi rounded out the top three.

Main 1 Results
Main 2 Results
Main 3 Results
Overall Results

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