Takuma Sato is to race for the rejuvenated Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team in 2012, the Japanese former F1 driver announced in a team press release published on his personal website on Friday.
“RLL is extremely pleased to welcome Takuma to our IndyCar team for 2012, and we anticipate having a very strong season together,” the press release quoted team co-owner Bobby Rahal as saying.
"I'm very proud, motivated and excited to be chosen by Bobby to join his big project,” responded Sato in turn.
Sato moved to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010 with KV Racing Technology after seven seasons in F1 with Jordan, BAR and Super Aguri. He had a strong second season in the series in 2011 and became the first Japanese driver to ever claim pole position in IndyCar. He went on to earn earn three top-five finishes, seven top-10s and lead 61 laps on his way to a 13th place finish in the point standings.
For 2012, he will take the wheel of the Honda-powered #15 RLL Dallara, with Rahal explaining that the team needed the blend of development and race experience together with raw speed that Sato offered.
"While we were determined to have an experienced driver for this season, we also needed someone that knew how to get to the front and Takuma has shown that he can do that," said Rahal. "He has made great strides through the last two seasons in Indy Car and I have no doubt that we can produce a strong effort with him leading the team."
2012 will be the first time that the Rahal Letterman Lanigan will compete in their full season of IndyCar racing since Ryan Hunter-Reay led the team in 2008. In previous years the squad had won the 1992 championship with Bobby Rahal himself at the wheel, as well as the 2004 Indianapolis 500 with Buddy Rice.
"Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has got a great history and record of winning so my motivation is ever so high and I am extremely thrilled to start the new season," said Sato. "This team I feel has got huge potential."
The team faces something of a steep climb to get up to speed in time for the start of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season on March 25 at St Petersburg, with Sato the first driver to be announced and the team not yet having taken part in any of the pre-season test sessions going on at Palm Beach and at Sebring International Raceway since the end of last year.
"With a new car for everybody, I am confident that we'll be up to speed very quickly," assured Sato.
The team are yet to confirm who will be sponsoring their 2012 campaign, or who will be in their second car assuming that the financial backing means that they are able to run one as hoped.
Pippa Mann raced for the team last year and has good relations with team co-owner Bobby Rahal; fellow Brit Jay Howard is another option as is Belgium's Bertrand Baquette, after he caused a stir when he briefly took the lead during the final laps of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 in May while driving for RLL.