Sato and Rahal Return to IMS for the Harvest GP After 1-3 Finishes There in the Indy 500; Rahal Aims to Improve on 2nd Place in the July GP

Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingPre-Race Notes
Harvest GP – Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
Round 12 and 13 of 14 in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES

DATE:     Thursday – Saturday, October 1-3, 2020

PRACTICE BROADCAST:     Live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, on Thursday from 2:25 – 3:40 p.m. ET. Also live on the INDYCAR Radio Network (IRN) and (timing & scoring + live analysis).

QUALIFYING BROADCASTS:     Live on INDYCAR Pass, the IRN and (timing & scoring + live analysis) from 6:20-6:50 p.m. ET Thursday and 10:20-10:50 a.m. ET on Saturday.

RACE BROADCASTS:     Live Friday, October 2 from 3:30-6:00 p.m. ET on USA Network and Saturday,
October 3 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Both races will also air on INDYCAR Pass, IRN, Sirius 211 and XM 205.

TRACK LAYOUT:     2.439-mile, 14-turn road course
RACE LENGTH:     85 laps on Friday / 75 laps on Saturday (July 4 race was 80 laps)
2020 WINNER:     Scott Dixon (July 4)
2020 POLESITTER:     Will Power (1:10.1779 / 125.116 mph; July 3)

RLL TOP START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):     4th by Rahal in 2020 / 2nd by Rahal in 2015 and 2020; seven events

RAHAL’S BEST START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):     4th in 2020 / 2nd in 2015 and 2020; seven events
RAHAL’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:     3 poles – Pole at St. Pete (street) 2009, Kansas (oval) 2009, Detroit Race 1 (street) 2017 / 6 wins – 1st in St. Pete in 2008, Fontana & Mid-Ohio 2015, Texas 2016, Detroit Race 1 & Race 2 2017

SATO’S BEST START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):     11th in 2018-2019 (RLL) / 9th in 2017 with AA; seven events
SATO’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:     10 Poles – Iowa (oval) 2011, Edmonton (street) 2011, Houston Race 1 (street) 2013, St. Pete (street) 2014, Detroit Dual 2 (street) 2014, Detroit Dual 2 2017, Pocono (oval) 2017, Barber (road) 2019, Texas (oval) 2019, St. Louis (oval; Race 2) 2020 / 6 Wins – Long Beach (2013), Indianapolis 500 (2017), Portland (2018), Barber (2019), St. Louis (2019), Indianapolis 500 (2020)


The Harvest GP (HGP) will mark the team’s 8th and 9th NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on the 2.439-mile road course.  The team’s highest finish is second by Graham Rahal in 2015 and 2020 and he also brought their highest start of fourth this July. In addition to Rahal (2014-2020) and Sato (2018-2020), other drivers that have competed for the team here include Spencer Pigot (2016, 2020) and Oriol Servia (2014).  For the second and third races on the IMS road course in 2020, RLL has entered the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Graham Rahal, and the No. 30 ABeam Consulting Honda for Takuma Sato in Race 1 and the Keihin Honda in Race 2.

Graham hopes to finish one better at the 2020 Harvest GP than he did earlier this season when he finished second in the July 4 GMR GP. In July, he earned his top start of fourth place here and matched his best finish of second place (2015, 2020) in seven starts but looked likely to win. After starting fourth, he passed Herta for third at the start of the race.  He moved into second when previous race leader Will Power made his first stop on Lap 17 of 80, apparently on a three-stop strategy and then into the lead when Jack Harvey pit on Lap 18. He led the next nine laps until he made his first stop on Lap 26 on a two-stop strategy and returned to the track in fourth place, running handily behind those on a three-stop strategy. A caution came out for rookie Askew, who crashed, and changed the complexion of the race. Three-stoppers Power, Newgarden and Harvey pit under caution and Rahal cycled into the lead on Lap 39. Rahal was on primary Firestone’s and Dixon, who had made his second of three stops two laps before the caution, caught up to Rahal and passed him on Lap 48. Dixon ran hard and built a 7-second gap on Rahal before Rahal made his second stop on Lap 54 and Dixon made his third stop on Lap 55.  After the field made their stops, Rahal returned to second place on lap 63 and held it until the checkered flag. He is looking forward to possible redemption on the road course.
           “The team has done a great job so far in improvements for the road courses over 2019. Our package has been extremely strong. Allen (McDonald; race engineer), Eddie (Jones, Takuma’s engineer) and all the guys did a great job coming up with some setups for this year that have worked. And we feel that it will work again at IMS this weekend. I thought we were phenomenal in Race 1 (at IMS; July 4 GMR Grand Prix) and I think that Race 2 and 3 (Harvest GP) will be just as good for us, it’s just that people learned from the strategy and other things we did in the first race and it will be interesting to see how we all respond this time around. I think the main contenders will be ourselves, Andretti Autosport, Penske, Ganassi. I could literally say almost everybody. At times the Coyne cars have been fast and others have too. I expect it to be a very competitive two races.”

When Takuma arrives to IMS this week for his eighth and ninth INDYCAR races on the road course, it will be as the only active, fulltime, two-time Indy 500 Champion after he backed up his 2017 win with one on August 23.  His best INDYCAR start on the road course is 11th in 2018 and his best finish is ninth in 2017 with Andretti Autosport.  In July, Takuma started 17th for his seventh race here. After qualifying, the team found an issue that attributed to a loss of two-tenths of a second on the front straight. In the race, Sato immediately dropped to 24th while struggling from what was determined post-race as a suspension issue.  The team aborted a two-stop strategy and made their first stop on Lap 11 and Sato returned to the track in last place of 26th. He steadily picked off cars and was in eight place when he was on his in-lap for his second stop but Askew brought out a caution and closed the pits. He was forced to come in for two-seconds of fuel on Lap 36 before making a full stop when the pits opened on Lap 38. He ran in 16th place and had a mid-stint battle with Veach for a few laps before he passed him. On Lap 53 he started another charge and moved up from 16th into sixth place by Lap 56 before his final stop on Lap 57. He moved from 14th into 10th before the checkered flag after passing Harvey, Pigot, Veach and Daly. He is looking forward to his return to the track for two more chances to reach the podium.
           “I think our road course setup has been very competitive as a team but we had a couple of issues too so hopefully I will have a trouble-free weekend and get back on a good pace. Mid-Ohio was a tough one for us.  Little things made a significant difference and strategy-wise we weren’t able to do much so we couldn’t recover well in the race but I hope we will turn that around at IMS. I think everyone will have beneficial data from July. The field will be even more tight however we studied hard and the preparation will boost us more so I will expect a competitive weekend for us.”

The GMR Grand Prix at IMS was 80 laps on July 4. Friday’s race will be 85 laps and Saturday’s race will be 75, thus necessitating different considerations in regard to pit stop strategy which will add another element to the strategy.
           “It will be different this time because you’ve got 85 laps in the first race, which is longer than we did in July, and 75 laps is obviously shorter so the Saturday race will be a little different,” said Rahal. “Seventy-five laps is a pretty easy two-stop race based on what we did before.  And 85 laps is a whole different ballgame. It will be interesting to see how it works out for everybody but we definitely hope to put the United Rentals Honda up front.”
           “We need to see what’s the optimum strategy once we know the pace and degradation for the weekend,” added Sato.

When the series competed in the GMR Grand Prix at IMS on July 4, the sweltering Indiana summer heat added an extra challenge for the drivers.Although it won’t be as warm, two races on the road course will still provide plenty of physical challenges and will impact the track conditions as well.
           “If it cools off, it’s just better from a physicality standpoint,” said Rahal. “We’ll all feel stronger. Hydration will be key as will taking care of our bodies with a little massage therapy on Friday night and other things too. Indy is very difficult on your neck in particular. In the heat, in the summer, its brutal all around but I think guys are going to get pretty tired with two races even in lower temps. Two races at IMS might not be as hard as two at Mid-Ohio but it certainly is physically demanding.”
           “The cooler temperatures will make a difference and usually make the car faster by itself as there is more downforce and consistent mechanical grips from the tires. The setup won’t be dramatically different from that but we will need some adjustments. We have had both cold – and I mean even winter-jacket-cold – and warm races at the Indy GP historically so we should able to respond well. A doubleheader is always physically demanding and yes it was a hot race in July but I think it will be fine for me. We will just make sure that we are going into the weekend with a good physical condition.”

Graham Rahal is ranked sixth in NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings with 301 and is only -37 behind third place Pato O’Ward (338). Takuma Sato is seventh with a total of 300 with three races to go in the season.  Both are focused on maximizing the opportunities.
           “I would still like to get into third place and I think we can,” said Rahal.  “I feel that we have had a tremendous season. On average I feel like we have had the second-best, or third-best season of anybody. The problem is that we had two really poor races. Obviously we missed points at Texas and Race 2 at Road America and St. Louis was not good for us but I do expect us to be pretty strong to finish this off.”
           “We want to finish as high at the end of the season as everyone else does,” added Sato. “We just need to do the best possible job for the rest of season too and see where we will land.”