Rahal delighted to land Sato for 2012
9 February 2012
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.
"We're very close on that," insisted Rahal. "The second car is being prepared as we speak. As far as we're concerned, we're going to have two cars, two drivers, and that's really our focus at this point in time."
In Rahal's opinion, "Having multiple cars within a team is better I think up to a point. I think ideally a two-car team is probably the right number. We've run three in the past and been successful with that; but nevertheless, organisationally it's a much tougher deal."
"In the end, if we have our options, we want to be a two-car team," he summarised. "We're working hard for that. I think we will be. So that's how we're going forward at this stage."
But if a second car didn't prove possible, Rahal insisted that he didn't think it would seriously harm his team's prospects for a successful 2012 season. "I had my best years, some of my best years, on a single-car team. We've gone to Indy the last several years as a single-car team and done I think pretty well.
"While a single-car team may not be ideal, I think your ability to be competitive is just as good there as anywhere else because you're able to focus all your efforts on one driver, one car, a small group of people tightly knit. That can do a lot of good things," he said.
Two cars can even be a disadvantage, he pointed out: "It can be good and it can be bad. If you have two drivers who drive completely differently from one another it's like having two one-car teams.
"The real advantage for many multiple-car teams is where you've got drivers who can drive each other's setups and each of them can enhance the other guy's setup with his own insight so you really get a powerful combination when that happens," he said.
"There's pluses and minuses to it. You certainly hope when you do something like that you're on the plus side."