Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete Marks RLL’s Return to Fulltime IndyCar Participation; Sato Looking Forward to Third Season

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – Pre-Race Notes – 21st Season

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida


Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg– FAST FACTS

Round 1 of 16 in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series


DATE:                                                Friday – Sunday, March 23-25, 2012

QUALIFYING BROADCAST:       Live on the IMS Radio Network and (timing & scoring)

RACE BROADCAST:                      Live on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC

RADIO BROADCAST:                    The race will air on IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 & Sirius channel 211

TRACK LAYOUT:                           1.8-mile, 14-turn street course

RACE LENGTH:                              100 laps / 180 miles 

2011 WINNER:                                 Dario Franchitti

2011 POLESITTER:                        Will Power (1:01.9625; 104.579 mph)


FINISH AT ST. PETE:                     6th by Hunter-Reay in 2008 (led 4) / 5th by Meira in 2005; fifth IndyCar race in St. Pete


STREET COURSE START:           Pole at Edmonton 2011


STREET COURSE FINISH:           4th at Mid-Ohio 2011


PETE:                         Highest start is 11th (2010 & 2011), highest finish is fifth (2011); third race here




Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will begin their 21st consecutive season of competition in 2012.  This season marks the team’s return to fulltime participation in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the first time since 2008 when Ryan Hunter-Reay drove for the team and finished the season ranked eighth after a win in Watkins Glen. The team entered cars in the Indy 500 each year since then and will prepare the No. 15 entry for a full season of competition for Japanese driver Takuma Sato in 2012.

                “We are pleased to be back fulltime,” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. “We have been trying to do this for the last several years but we have been unable to do it properly and, of course, you don’t want to do anything improperly.  Mike Lanigan, frankly, brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm towards getting back into the series on a fulltime basis.  I’m excited about it and I met with David (Letterman) recently and he is very excited about it too. Even though the IndyCar group is a fairly new group for the most part, we feel that we have got good engineering support and good people in key places and are confident that we can be a factor in the series.” 



The 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the fifth IndyCar race for the team in St. Petersburg and Takuma Sato’s No. 15 entry will be the ninth car prepared by the team for this event.  RLLR previously prepared Indy cars for Danica Patrick (2005, 2006), Buddy Rice (2005, 2006), Vitor Meira (2005), Jeff Simmons (2007), Scott Sharp (2007) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008) for the St. Pete race. The team led the race for four laps with Hunter-Reay in 2008 but changing strategy prompted by intermittent rain led to a different Rahal – Graham – winning the event.  RLLR has earned three top-10 finishes with the best being fifth by Meira in 2005.  The highest starting position by the team is sixth place by Hunter-Reay in 2008.


Takuma Sato, 35, will compete in his third season of IZOD IndyCar Series competition and his first with RLL.  In 34 starts in 2010-2011, Sato has 17 career top-10 starting spots including four top-five starts and two poles (Edmonton and Iowa 2011).   He has earned eight top-10 finishes including three top-five spots (fourth at Mid-Ohio, fifth at Texas and St. Petersburg in 2011) and has led a total of 61 laps.  He is looking forward to the new challenges this season.

                “I am very excited for this coming weekend,” said Sato, who earned his second series pole on the road/street course in Edmonton last season.  “St. Pete has always been a great venue for both fans and drivers. I love the atmosphere of downtown and there are a lot of great places to eat.” 


In his two previous races on the 1.8-mile street course, Sato started 11th in both.  His best finish at the track is fifth place last year. He is looking forward to the chance to improve upon that finish and anticipates some surprises.

                “The track is tricky but there are some good overtaking opportunities as it has a couple of long straights with heavy braking in each end of them. The car needs good mechanical grip as it is a typical bumpy street course but also requires high-speed stability because of some quick corners.  We have been working hard to find a good setup from the new car at the preseason tests. There always tends to be some surprises at the start of the season but this year could be more so because of the new cars, new engines and new teams.  I just can't wait to get there and find how we go racing!”


“Takuma has shown to us already that he has got the speed,” said Rahal.  “For us, and for him I think, our focus is on getting the car to the end of the race.  It’s about us helping to put him in a position where he can make a difference at the end of the race.  On the race track, I have no doubt that he can do that. There will be a little bit of a get-acquainted process for each of us but I think everybody is pretty fired up about going back out there and putting on a good show.”


“I first started my discussions with Honda in 1989,” said Rahal of the engine manufacturer’s involvement in Indy car racing. “There was about a three year gestational period to get them from discussion to producing an engine for testing in 1993. I have a lot of very fond memories of that time and about some of the people that were there at the time – especially Mr. Osaka who was in charge of the project in the beginning. For us to have won Honda’s first Indy 500 in 2004 was a great thrill for me personally given the effort that went in all those years.  But now to be back with Honda as one of their selected teams in the new series, and with Takuma and his relationship with Honda, certainly we feel a great sense of obligation to put in a world class effort for both of them.”


“It’s a good time to get back in the IndyCar Series because of the rule changes, the engine manufacturers coming in and the brand new car which gives everyone a level playing field to start from,” said Jay O’Connell, who has been with the team since fall 2007 after stints with Ford Motor Company, Jaguar Racing Formula One and Multimatic.  “Even though we have a lot of history with the Dallara chassis, it is a new chassis; a new evolution. It really helps that everyone starts from the same place.  All of the tips and tricks that you learned about the old car are put aside and we now start to figure out how to apply them to the new car.”


“I believe we are more prepared than others because of our Honda connection. They have been very forthcoming with information and data and their understanding of the new car.  They allowed Takuma to test the factory car in December and I think that gave us a big boost at Sebring and for the whole year as we approach the number of street courses we are going to race on.  I think we are quite prepared; we have done almost 900 miles of testing with Takuma in February and March leading up to the first race and I think that is a lot more testing than he may have done in the past.  That gives us a lot of confidence going into St. Pete.”


“Takuma has impressed us with his ability to get going quickly. He really gets up to speed quickly; pushes the tires hard, pushes the car hard and gets the pace out of the car right away.  There is no warm-up time, no working up to it so you aren’t taking half of a day to get ready.  He is ready to go from the first outing and that means that we are able to cover more ground in the development space of the new car and we are able to try more changes over the course of the 900 miles that we have tested because he is on pace right away.”


“I think the biggest unknown is how the engines will stack up against each other. Everyone has been working on different development levels of engines up to this point but they will all bring their best game to St. Pete.  The first order will be to see how the engine competition plays out. And then the second level is to see who understands the Dallara the best so far and who can get the most out of the car.  Over the course of the year, everyone will get better and the cars will get faster and we will all get further down the road but right now it comes down to finding out who has learned the most about the car in the last three months since the cars arrived in boxes.”


Sato, 35, is a former high school and university cycling champion in road racing and track cycling and racing on velodromes was his first experience racing on ovals… Despite not beginning his career in auto racing until he was 19 years old, he progressed to Formula One in only six seasons and went on to become the most successful Japanese driver to compete in F1 after having finished third at the US Grand Prix in 2004… The first race he attended was an F1 race at Suzuka at the age of 10… His career was launched years later when he read about a contest in a racing magazine while in college that ultimately resulted in being one of three drivers to win a racing scholarship. It was a one-shot opportunity due to an age limit and, as he knew it was the career path he preferred over others, he made the most of it… He went on to compete in F1 for seven seasons and made 91 starts… His popularity in Japan has been compared to that of a “Rock Star” and he is a popular corporate image character both in Japan and around the globe… He has been awarded “Goodwill Ambassador” for the British Embassy in Tokyo and used for valuable UK-Japan trade development activities… His U.S. base of Denver was chosen so that he could train in the high altitude and his fulltime residence is Monaco… He is married with two children.                                                   


Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also competes fulltime in the American Le Mans Series. Last weekend the team won the GT class of the 12 Hours of Sebring with drivers Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Jonathan Summerton.  The team’s other entry, driven by Jörg Müller, Bill Auberlen and Uwe Alzen led the race at one point and finished fourth in the ALMS GT class.