RLL Makes Its Debut at Barber Motorsports Park; After Leading Season-Opener Sato Hopes to Carry Momentum to Alabama

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Pre-Race Notes

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – Barber Motor­sports Park, Leeds, Alabama

Round 2 of 16 in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series


DATE:                                         Friday – Sunday, March 30 – April 1, 2012

QUALIFYING BROADCAST:     Live on the IMS Radio Network and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring)

SPECIAL BROADCAST:            INDYCAR 36” will air on NBC Sports Network at 1:30 p.m. ET

RACE BROADCAST:                 Live on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network

RADIO BROADCAST:               The race will air on IMS Radio Network, XM channel 94 & Sirius channel 211

TRACK LAYOUT:                       2.38-mile, 17-turn road course

RACE LENGTH:                         90 laps / 214.2 miles 

2011 WINNER:                           Will Power

2011 POLESITTER:                   Will Power (1:11.4546; 115.878 mph)


STREET COURSE START:        Pole at Edmonton 2011


STREET COURSE FINISH:        4th at Mid-Ohio 2011

SATO IN BARBER:                    Highest start is sixth in 2010 and highest finish is 16th in 2011; third race here





Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing began 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.  Sato put RLL in the lead of the race in their return to full-season partic­i­pa­tion at the season-opener in St. Peters­burg when he took the posi­tion twice for a total of 11 laps. A mechan­ical issue forced the team’s retire­ment from the race after the final pit stop.



The 2012 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will mark the first IndyCar Series race for the team at Barber Motor­sports Park. It will be Takuma Sato’s third event at the track.  In his first race here in 2010, he progressed to the Fire­stone Fast Six round with a sixth place qual­i­fying posi­tion and finished 25th after an inci­dent in Turn 13 hindered his result.  In 2011 he qual­i­fied 11th and finished 16th.

            Barber is one of my favorite circuits in the series,” said Sato. “It has nice flowing corners with great eleva­tion changes and it’s very chal­lenging.  I always enjoy driving there and fans are very enthu­si­astic so it has a great atmos­phere on race day. Unfor­tu­nately I didn’t seem to have much luck in my previous two years of racing there but hope­fully this time I will. Our winter test at Barber wasn’t partic­u­larly strong in terms of perfor­mance but we did have a very compet­i­tive race last weekend so, although the char­ac­ter­istic of the circuits are very different, I hope we are able to have strong weekend.”



“The big chal­lenge at Barber is to achieve a good low speed balance through the long low speed corners (T2-3, T5-6, and T9) while also main­taining good high speed stability (T10-11, T12),” said O’Connell of the 2.38-mile, 17-turn course.  “The eleva­tion changes add to the chal­lenge espe­cially the down­hill braking zones into T1 and T5, and the compres­sions entering T13 and T14.

            “Since the February Barber test was our first team test with the DW12, and our first time at Barber, we learned a lot about the car over the two days. Most of the setup and devel­op­ment work will carry over to the Barber race this weekend. For example we have a good starting point for ride heights and gear ratios based on the test setup.”



“After racing at St. Pete last weekend, I think we are compet­i­tive with the other top Honda teams. Our car was much stronger in the race than in qual­i­fying, so we need to focus on improving our qual­i­fying setup. We used a creative strategy, combined with Takuma’s very strong restart and race pace to take the lead several times during the race. We were disap­pointed to have an issue with the gearshift system take us out of the race after completing our final pit stop. Takuma was headed for a top five finish.”



Firestone’s alter­nate tire program, part of the IZOD IndyCar Series since 2009, calls for a second tire spec­i­fi­ca­tion at a road– or street-course race weekend using the same tire construc­tion as the primary spec­i­fi­ca­tion, but with a softer tread compound to provide more grip and faster lap times while trading off compound dura­bility in exchange for those shorter-term advan­tages. Firestone’s alter­nate tires are easily iden­ti­fied by their bright red side­walls. O’Connell believes this provided an added element of strategy in the season-opener and Sato’s expe­ri­ence with the program helped the team move into the lead.

“The differ­ence in pace between the red and black Fire­stone tires at St. Pete was signif­i­cant,” said O’Connell. “Like most teams, we saved the red tires for qual­i­fying and had to antic­i­pate the balance change that the red tires created. Takuma’s prior expe­ri­ence with the red tires helped, during qual­i­fying and the race, to get the most perfor­mance out of them.”



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 five years 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 seven drivers (out of approx. 70) 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… He founded “With You Japan,” an orga­ni­za­tion that provides support to chil­dren affected by the devas­tating earth­quakes and tsunami in Japan. Many of whom lost their family, friends, teachers and homes… 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.