Takuma Sato has thanked his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Team and team-mate Graham Rahal in particular following his dominant win in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. The Japanese driver won Sunday’s race from pole position and credited Graham for finding the car setup earlier in the weekend that would ultimately see Sato’s #30 Honda remain in control for the entire race.
After the two Friday practice sessions, Sato was left frustrated after struggling to get his car driving right as the track evolved. Takuma was one of many drivers to have an off-track excursion during the running, spinning at the turn eight chicane at one point.
“It was a tough day with mixed feelings.” Sato said after the second practice session, “Initially, I felt the car was quite positioned while the track was still green.
“The session was cut short by red flags, but we felt good under those conditions. As the track started getting more rubber down and faster, we started losing the balance and grip. In the end, we struggled to find the speed. I was in traffic when I was on the red [Firestone alternate] tyre and never got a clear lap, but I didn’t really feel we could gain any time. Hopefully, we can develop the car tonight and have a productive day because today was tough.”
Thankfully for Sato, his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew were able to develop the #30 car prior to qualifying on Saturday. After some high-profile scalps in the opening rounds of qualifying, Sato found himself in the shoot-out for pole position, along with team-mate Rahal.
As the final session drew to a close, it looked as though Rahal was on course to take a fantastic pole position. However, at the last moment when the chequered flag flew, Sato would put in one final lap to usurp his team-mate and take pole position for himself, with just one-tenth of a second separating the pair.
After the front row lock-out for the team, Sato would hail the “dream result” as a “team effort” stating that he was happy that the team took a 1-2 on the grid, but also admitting that he was glad that he was able to beat his team-mate.
“This is a dream result,” Sato said on Saturday, “We don’t really care which [teammate] is first; obviously, I do care that I am in front of Graham, but this team is working so hard and sometimes a lucky break comes, but today we did everything together.”
“This is a team effort. I’m really happy for us both. Black [Firestone primary] tyres and red [Firestone alternate] tires had a similar performance yesterday, but today, clearly the red tire was the faster one. I actually did try the black tire in the Firestone Fast Six to try and go again faster, but obviously, the red tire was much faster and in the end, I was very happy with my lap.”
At the start of Sunday’s race, both Sato and Rahal would maintain position at the front of the field. Both would lead the opening stint of the race, but at the first pit-stop, problems began to appear. Sato had a slow pit-stop after his crew had difficulties fitting a new left-rear tyre.
For Rahal, however, problems were worse. His #15 Honda had started developing a throttle sensor issue, which required a lengthy pit-stop in order to find a resolution. He would rejoin the race near the back of the pack.
Ultimately, Sato would go on to dominate the remaining laps of the race, only showing one sign of weakness in the final five laps when he had a brief but scary moment at the turn eight chicane. He ran wide and over the grass on the outside of the corner, damaging his rear-diffuser.
Thankfully, the damage was not enough to cost Sato the victory. He would ultimately take his fourth NTT IndyCar Series race victory with a margin of over two seconds to the runner-up finisher, Scott Dixon. The result was a fantastic one for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, capping off what had been a fantastic weekend for the squad.
Sadly, the result was slightly mired for the team after Graham Rahal was forced to retire the second car after stopping out on the track.
After the race, Sato would thank the team’s co-owners, Bobby Rahal and Mike Lanigan, for giving him the opportunity to continue to race in IndyCar. He would also go on to express his sadness that his team-mate, Graham, was unable to finish the race. In later interviews, Sato would even admit that Rahal was responsible for finding the car setup that the team would put on his own #30 car, that ultimately gave Sato the winning edge on Sunday.
“It’s a great turnout,” Sato said post-race, “A really big thank you for Bobby and Mike Lanigan to make this [possible] for me. And big thank you to Graham Rahal; we were working so closely together. I mean today, either of us was going to be competitive. It was very unfortunate what happened to him, but this is great for the team.”
Later, Sato would talk about the two minor issues that occurred during his dominant drive. Firstly, he spoke of the difficult first pit-stop, where he would cite potential new pit-crew members as the reason for the slow stop, before going on to brush the issue off as a simple mistake that can happen at any time in motorsport.
“I think on the No. 30 car, we have new boys and are always learning and [slow stops] happen; it’s racing,” Sato said of the pit-stop drama, “You know, I make mistakes, too. It’s OK. I think we were back in the lead after that, and the car [was] superb today.”
Sato would end by talking of his late-race mistake at turn eight, simply stating: “Maybe I shouldn’t have pushed that hard. It was a very intense battle; it was good.”
As a result of his victory on Sunday, Sato now sits in third place in the drivers’ championship after three rounds of the 2019 season. Takuma trails championship leader Josef Newgarden by thirty-four points.
The next round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, the 2019 Grand Prix of Long Beach, will take place this weekend on Sunday, April 14. Sato enters the race as a previous race-winner on the streets of Long Beach, having taken his maiden IndyCar victory in the event back in 2013.