Rahal and Sato Return to the Streets for the 2020 INDYCAR Season-Finale Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete

Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Pre-Race Notes
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida
Round 14 of 14 in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIESDATE:           
Saturday – Sunday, October 24-25, 2020

PRACTICE BROADCAST:           Live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, on Saturday from 10:55 – 12:25 p.m. ET and Sunday from 10:40 – 11:10 p.m. ET.  Also live on the INDYCAR Radio Network (IRN) and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis).

QUALIFYING BROADCAST:           Live on INDYCAR Pass, the IRN and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis) from 3:05-4:20 p.m. ET Saturday. Tape delayed on NBCSN from 8-9 p.m. ET Saturday.

RACE BROADCAST:           Live Sunday, October 25 from 2:30-4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. And also on INDYCAR Pass, IRN, Sirius 211 and XM 205.

TRACK LAYOUT:           1.8-mile, 14-turn street course
RACE LENGTH:           100 laps / 180 miles (10 less laps than 2019)
2019 WINNER:           Josef Newgarden
2019 POLESITTER:           Will Power (1:00.4594; 107.179 mph)

RLL’S TOP START / FINISH AT ST. PETE:           5th by Sato in 2018 / 2nd by Rahal in 2018; will be team’s 13th event here

RAHAL’S BEST START / FINISH IN ST. PETE:           1st in 2009 / 1st in 2008 – both with Newman / Haas / Lanigan Racing; will be his 13th race here

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 IN ST. PETE:           1st in 2014 with A.J. Foyt Racing / 5th in 2011 with KV Racing; will be his 11th race here

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 2020 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 13th INDYCAR SERIES race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) Racing in St. Petersburg. The team has entered the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Graham Rahal and the No. 30 Panasonic / Mi-Jack Honda for Takuma Sato.  The team prepared Indy cars for Danica Patrick (2005, 2006), Buddy Rice (2005, 2006), Vitor Meira (2005), Jeff Simmons (2007), Scott Sharp (2007), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008), Takuma Sato (2012, 2018-19), Graham Rahal (2013-2019), James Jakes (2013) and Spencer Pigot (2016) prior to this year. The team led 11 laps with Takuma Sato in 2012 and four laps with Hunter-Reay in 2008 (G. Rahal won w/NHLR) and has earned three top-10 finishes with the best being fifth by Meira in 2005.  The highest starting position by the team is fifth place by Sato and highest finish is second by Graham Rahal – both in 2018.

In 2020, Graham will make his 13th Indy car start at this track.  His best start here is pole in 2009 and best finish is a win in 2008 in his IndyCar Series debut – both history-making moments at the time as he became the youngest race winner in series history (2008), and youngest pole winner in series history (2009). Both records were eclipsed last year by Colton Herta but he held them for 10 and 11 years, respectively.  Overall, he has earned one top-five and six top-10 starts here and has two top-five and four top-10 finishes. Year-by-year details are available upon request. Graham is hoping to end the season with a win. 
           “We’re looking forward to St. Pete. We’ve done well there before and have been very competitive there in the past, having won years ago. But also we’ve had some good runs over the last few years. We’re used to St. Pete starting the season off and getting the mojo for the whole year going and obviously this year it’s ending our season but will quickly start our next so we need to make sure we well prepared and do a good job this weekend. It’s critical that our cars are competitive, that Takuma and I work well together and try to close this season off on a really-high note. As far as the No. 15 car this year, I‘m really proud of how everyone has worked together. I think we’ve had a pretty stellar year. Obviously, I would have liked to get the win at Indianapolis but in general I think our guys have done a great job and have been pretty locked in and pretty focused. We’d like to get them a win, would like to finish this year off that way. It’s been since 2017 since we’ve won so we’re pretty focused on trying to make that happen and it would be great to do it in St. Pete.”

In 2019, Graham set the third fastest lap (1:00.5933) in Group 2 of Round 1 and advanced to Round 2. He didn’t get a good out lap therefore the rear tires didn’t reach their maximum potential and he set the 11th fastest lap time and did not progress to Round 3.  He started 10th and passed Hinchcliffe for ninth at the start of the 110-lap race. He made his first pit stop on Lap 12 and moved up to seventh place while multiple pit strategies were playing out and some competitors encountered problems. On Lap 32 the team called him in during a caution when a tire pressure sensor alerted them of a right rear tire puncture, likely caused by running over debris from previous accidents.  This necessitated a strong fuel conservation to finish the race in two more stops. He made his third stop on Lap 71 from eighth place and continued to conserve fuel after he returned to the track.  Due to being unable to maintain a strong pace, the team elected to come in for a splash of fuel on Lap 101/110 while running ninth. He dropped to 12th place and took the checkered flag in that position. 

The 2020 race will be Takuma’s 11th here.  In 10 races, his best start is pole in 2014 with AJ Foyt Racing (AFR) and best finish is fifth place in 2011 with KV Racing. Overall, he has earned five top-five and six top-10 starts here and has two top-five and five top-10 finishes. Year-by-year details are available upon request.  St. Pete is one of Takuma’s favorite INDYCAR SERIES venues and he is appreciative of the fact that the promoter, Savoree Green, was able to reschedule the race.
           “It feels time has passed and it has been a long time since our last visit. We just never knew what was going to happen in the world at that time and it has changed a lot in particular in the US but we appreciate so much that we are able to have a race. St. Pete has been recognized so well for the season opener for a long time so it feels a little different when you realized that it will be our last race of the season. Nevertheless, St. Pete has been one of the greatest tracks and we all love it so I am very happy to go back there. We are so fortunate to be able to race in these unprecedented times because a lot of athletes couldn’t even have the opportunity to perform. The Tokyo Olympics had to postpone to 2021 so everyone involved in our sport did a fantastic job to have our season.”

Last year, Sato had his fastest lap taken away after he drove into a runoff area during qualifying which brought out a local yellow flag. In the race, he had moved up from his 20th place start and had been running eighth before his third stop on Lap 75/110 but began having a shifting problem on his in-lap and was unable to continue once he was in his pit. It was discovered that debris had clogged the gearbox electronic cooling duct which led to overheating and a malfunction of the gear control unit. 

It’s hard to believe that the previous NTT INDYCAR SERIES street race was over a year ago in Toronto on July 14, 2019. Due to the close confines of a street course, most races are unpredictable. That may add an extra challenge for those trying to balance pushing the envelope for the highest season-ending points finish possible while also hoping for a trouble-free race. Sato is looking forward to the challenge.
           “It’s sad that this is the only street race of this year but we all understand and we live under very difficult and challenging circumstances. I always enjoy driving the St. Pete course and we went to the simulator in the spring so we did our prep as much as we could then. Needless to say, we are looking forward to this challenging street race so much. Yes, it will add an element of unpredictability as it’s the nature of the street course race but that’s all good for the show and we think we will be competitive! It was a special season for me and it’s great that we delivered such an amazing race win (at the Indy 500) with the team particularly after our memory in 2012. I like to say big thank you to the entire team, owners, loyal sponsors and fans! It’s hard to believe this is the final race.”

Developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies and tested multiple times since its first on-track assessment in October 2019, the Aeroscreen will make its first appearance on the street course that was intended to be the location of its debut. The Aeroscreen is INDYCAR’s latest safety innovation to reduce the risk of driver injury from flying debris or other objects striking the cockpit area and it proved a valuable asset throughout its debut season.”
           “It certainly did a very impressive job for the main purpose for the safety and has proven it’s a great device as we observed several incidents this season,” said Sato. “It added more challenge for driving and engineering but that’s the nature of racing so INDYCAR and the safety team did an outstanding job.”

Graham Rahal is ranked sixth in NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings with 354 and is only -22 behind fifth place Pato O’Ward (376). Takuma Sato is seventh with a total of 328 and he could possibly better his highest season-ending standing of eighth in 2017. Both are focused on maximizing the potential.
           “We’re sixth in points and could move forward with a really strong weekend,” said Rahal.  “I’m not so worried about moving backward, obviously that still is a threat but the point is I would rather just take some chances and advance our position and go forward in the championship so that’s what we’re going to try to do. All in all, we’re looking forward to the challenges ahead with one last go this season and will close 2020 off hopefully on a very high note.”
           “Regardless of the season-ending position, we have to just focus on doing the best possible job we try to achieve,” added Sato.