Rahal Letterman Lanigan might be somewhat behind the curve when it comes to getting out on track and testing ahead of the start of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series next month, but the team got a major boost last week with confirmation that Takuma Sato would be their lead driver for the year.
"I'm excited that Taku has joined us," said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. "I had a chance to see Taku not when he first started racing but when he was Europe in England in Formula 3 in 2001 when I was over there with Jaguar F1. I managed to watch Takuma win a lot of Formula 3 races: I think Formula 3 has always been considered a very good judge of talent.
"I kept an eye on him when he was in F1, so I've known his competitiveness, his speed - I've seen that many times over the years," he continued. "He's shown his pace over the last couple years in IndyCars ... When we reentered IndyCar racing, it was important for us to do so with someone who was going to be competitive - I had no real interest in just being here. Taku certainly fits that bill."
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 IndyCar in 2011 and became the first-ever Japanese driver to claim pole position in the series. 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.
"Taku spent a lot of time in England, so he's got a lot of English slang and colloquialisms," added Rahal. "It's almost like being back in England when you're around him!"
"My expectation is ever so high, I was very confident we could do a great job this year," said Sato when asked why he had opted to leave KVRT for RLL. "I've known [this deal] is going to be happen from the very early stage of the end of the season last year, so I'm extremely pleased.
"They showed great speed last year every single time they were entering IndyCar," added Sato of his new team. "When I discussed with Bobby how it's going to operate with the new team, I was very excited."
Now they have a top-name driver on board, Rahal admitted that RLL urgently needs to get up to speed with pre-season preparations and set-up: "We have testing to do yet," he said. "We've done a little bit already in December which went I think pretty well. So I think everybody's just anxious to get going."
Rahal also confirmed that the team still hopes to add a second car to the team line-up for 2012, although it hasn't been confirmed and everyone's staying tight-lipped about which drivers might be in the frame for the seat if it happens.