Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato leaving Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing again

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The NTT IndyCar Series future of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato was in doubt Tuesday after Rahal Letterman Lanigan said the Japanese driver’s second stint with the team has ended.

Sato has raced in IndyCar since 2010 following seven seasons in Formula One. The Tokyo native has driven for Rahal the last four years, winning four races including the Indy 500 in 2020.

“It’s been a great time and so many memories,” Sato said in a social media video posted by RLL.

Sato also won the Indy 500 in 2017 driving for Andretti Autosport, his only season with that team.

Sato, 44, has six career victories, but his two Indy 500 wins make him one of the more desirable free agents in IndyCar. But sponsorship will play a role in what and where Sato drives in 2022.

RLL team owner Bobby Rahal has said for several months that Sato’s future with the team was dependent on funding. Sato also drove for Rahal in 2012.

“It was a privilege and honor to have Takuma with us twice over the years. We appreciate the commitment and the energy he brought every day to the track and to everything that we were doing as a team,” Rahal said in a statement. “I always really enjoyed working with Takuma. His dedication and commitment to not just his craft, but also the team was unquestionable.

“I would like to think we will always remain friends because we just enjoyed each other’s company.”

Sato could try to land another full-time ride – possibly with Dale Coyne Racing, which needs to replace Romain Grosjean after his move to Andretti – or focus only on landing a competitive seat for next year’s Indy 500.

Sato drove two seasons for Jimmy Vasser when he first moved to the United States, and four seasons for A.J. Foyt Racing, for which he earned his first career IndyCar victory in 2013 at Long Beach.

Sato’s status in IndyCar was among the late-season questions as drivers jockeyed for 2022 seats. Rahal is expanding to add a third car next year that is expected to go to Jack Harvey, who told Meyer Shank Racing he was not returning. Harvey already has been replaced by Simon Pagenaud.

Another Rahal car has not yet been announced, but the team tried three different drivers over the course of the season and Oliver Askew drove the final three races of the year. Santino Ferrucci drove the car in five races, finishing with a pair of sixth-place finishes, but told The Associated Press at the Long Beach season finale last month he’s no longer in the running for the seat.

Graham Rahal is the anchor of the RLL team, which went winless in 2021. He finished seventh in the standings, while Sato was 11th. Only Graham Rahal scored a podium for the team this season.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”