Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato will return to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Rahal returning Takuma Sato
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  — Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato will be returning to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing next year for a fourth season.

“Clearly it has been a successful partnership over the last several years, culminating in this year’s Indy 500 victory and I look forward to further success with Takuma throughout 2021,” team co-owner Bobby Rahal said Saturday.

Sato has four of his six career IndyCar victories with RLL, including the Indy 500 in August. He ranked seventh in the series standings heading into Sunday’s season finale, and Sato has never finished higher than eighth in points.

“The 2020 season was an unforgettable one for many reasons. Needless to say, it was an extremely challenging situation worldwide, but the team continued to work very hard to be competitive under the difficult circumstances,” Sato said.

“Our Indy 500 win was a truly special moment and I want to thank everyone at the team again. We are already focused on the future and I am really looking forward to 2021.”

The Japanese driver has 181 career IndyCar starts dating to his 2010 rookie season. He won his first Indy 500 in 2017.

Sato, a native of Tokyo, Japan, also has victories in the 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 four of the six coming with RLL.

Of his 14 podium finishes to date, 10 have come with RLL and he has earned 10 Indy car poles, three of which are with RLL.

Prior to IndyCar, he competed in 90 Formula One races between 2002-2008 with his highest finish of third at the 2004 United States Grand Prix.

“It has been a pleasure working with Takuma for many years and sharing with him all of the successes he has had,” said Mike Lanigan, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with Bobby Rahal and David Letterman. “Winning the Indy 500 together exceeded my own dreams and we at RLL look forward to more success in the new season. Having Takuma back with our team in 2021 provides continuity and will allow us to build upon the competitiveness we have shown this season.”

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.