Rahal and Sato Are Excited to Return to Action at IMS for the GMR Grand Prix

Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingPre-Race Notes
GMR Grand Prix – Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
Round 5 of 17 in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES

DATE:     Friday – Saturday, May 14-15, 2021

PRACTICE BROADCAST:     Live on Peacock Premium on Friday from 9:30 – 10:15 a.m. and 1:00 – 1:45 p.m. ET and on Saturday from 10:45–11:15 a.m. ET.  Also live on the INDYCAR Radio Network (IRN) and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis).

QUALIFYING BROADCAST:     Live on Peacock Premium, the IRN and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis) from 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET Friday.

RACE BROADCAST:     Live on NBC Sunday, May 15 from 2:30 – 5 p.m. ET. And also on Peacock Premium, IRN, Sirius 211 and XM 205

TRACK LAYOUT:     2.439-mile, 14-turn road course
RACE LENGTH:     85 laps / 207.35 miles
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; nine events

RAHAL’S BEST START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):     4th in 2020 / 2nd in 2015 and 2020; nine 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; nine 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 GMR Grand Prix will mark the team’s 10th NTT INDYCAR SERIES race 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 RLL 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).  RLL has entered the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda for Graham Rahal, and the No. 30 Panasonic / Shield Cleansers Honda for Takuma Sato.

Graham hopes to finish one better at the 2021 GMR Grand Prix than he did last year when he finished second in the July 4 race. The series competed on the road course two more times in 2020. In the July race that was rescheduled from the May date, 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 earned two seventh-place finishes in the doubleheader in October and is still looking forward to possible redemption on the road course.
           “I’m excited for this weekend.  Last year we felt like we had really done everything right to win the Indy Grand Prix, came up just short due to the yellow. But I feel like our cars are very competitive, I feel like we’ve been very competitive at the Indy GP. In fact, I’m looking at my trophies from there in the past. We just haven’t gotten to the top step. This time around we certainly hope to be able to do that. I think the cars have been very competitive.  You look at Barber, and even St. Pete; obviously we didn’t get the result we hoped for, but at St. Pete we were very strong. We feel like we can take our base setup from there and make it work here at the Indy GP with a couple of different tweaks from last year but I feel like we are going to be very competitive. If we can qualify up front, we can certainly be one of the guys to beat. It’s big coming off of Texas and getting all that momentum coming into May.  It’s nice to be (at IMS) back in May versus August which gives you that mojo back a little bit. But we are excited for the opportunity ahead. We finished second in the GP last year, and third in the 500 so we know we can be very competitive at both of these events.  Now we need to go out and make it happen. Our guys have worked their butts off all year long. The preparation that has gone into this has been tremendous. I really expect us to be strong in both events. I’ll be disappointed if that’s not the case, but we will do what we can to make a right and go out there and put on a good show, get the Fifth Third Bank car up front for the Grand Prix and then obviously get the United Rentals special 2004 Buddy Rice paint scheme to the front for the Indy 500.”

IMS is obviously a special place for Takuma Sato. He is the only active, fulltime, two-time Indy 500 Champion in the series after he backed up his 2017 win with one on August 23, 2020.  His best INDYCAR start on the road course is 11th in 2018 and his best finish is ninth in 2017 with Andretti Autosport.  He is looking forward to kicking off the two races at IMS with a strong finish.  Sato is refreshed and ready to get back on track after a weekend off following four races in three weekends.
           “It was good to have a weekend off after three consecutive weekends and four races. We all love the racing but sometimes it’s important to have some days off because its physically and mentally draining because we are 100 percent committed and it uses so much energy. Especially for the boys, just nonstop working on the cars, engineers analyzing so much data. Just to have the weekend off and have more time to analyze the data more is important. Even for drivers after a good or frustrating weekend, it’s nice to have a refreshing break before the next thing, especially with the big month of May is coming. I’m really refreshed and ready to go have a strong weekend.”

“The Indy GP is always unique and always very interesting with lots of overtaking possibilities even for a road course. It’s challenging, the track itself, of course everybody knows that IMS is a beautiful facility.  However as a road course point of view, its flat but quite challenging because you need to keep momentum all the time, especially through the high speed chicane just before the back straight. There is heavy braking and you go through the esses and again into the complex part for the last part of the track which has different characteristics. It’s quite challenging, but of course going fast is always quite challenging in any circumstances but it’s a good track and I don’t have a strong record here in IndyCar – yet. Hopefully, this weekend that changes. Personally, I have a great memories here from back in the old days (F1) and IMS is just a beautiful place; I love the place. I think this weekend, I have a good feeling. From the team preparation point of view, I think we carried the good momentum from last year the team had a very good baseline. Now of course the tire spec and aero specification, and some bits and pieces are different, as well as the environment is different so sometimes you can’t quite carry over the setup to the next season, however I think the baseline is very strong and good. Already in Barber we had the road course race, and we showed a good speed. At Barber, we were a little unfortunate for the strategy, so the result didn’t come as we wished, but we showed good potential, which I think is a good sign for Indy GP. The month of May will be starting soon, of course the Indy 500 is a big part, but the Indy GP is important for us as well.  It’s nice to be back in the car after the refreshing weekend. I’m looking forward to going to the road course race at IMS, and seeing all the fans that will be there. I can’t wait to be back in the car very, very soon.”

Graham Rahal is ranked fifth in NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings with 107 and is only -46 behind points leader Scott Dixon (153). Takuma Sato is 12th with a total of 84.