Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) has signed up 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato of Japan to drive one of its race cars again for next year.
It’s been five years since Sato raced for RLL and almost won the 2012 Indianapolis 500, which he lost in a last-lap shootout with Dario Franchitti.
The 40-year-old Tokyo native returns next season to RLL to team up with Graham Rahal, the team announced on Wednesday. Sato drove for Andretti Autosport in the last season following four years with AJ Foyt Racing.
“We’re pleased to have Takuma back,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of the team with late-night talk-show icon David Letterman and Mike Lanigan. “He’s a hell of a driver. This year has been a very good year for him. Yeah, he won Indy, but at times he was the best of the Andretti cars.”
“I am extremely happy to be back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” Sato said in a team release. “The team has been ultra-competitive the past few seasons. I can’t wait to be a part of it in 2018. I think we can achieve some great things together.”
Unlike five years ago, when Sato crashed out after bumping with Franchitti on the final lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Japanese driver outdueled three-time winner Helio Castroneves to achieve a career-defining May victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Sato’s only other Verizon IndyCar Series victory came in the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for AJ Foyt Racing.
“It’s great to have him and the addition of a second car,” Graham Rahal said. “From what I hear, he’s very technically savvy and he’s obviously won races, an Indy 500 champion. Hopefully, he’ll help us a lot. We’ve been pretty strong, but Takuma has got great speed, so it will be interesting to learn from him and see some of that. He’s a very experienced guy, he’s been all over the world, [driven in]Formula One, so it will be fun to have him.”
Graham Rahal finished sixth in the points in the just concluded 2017 IndyCar season, or two spots ahead of Sato. But eighth was Sato’s career-best points finish with four top-five finishes.