Rahal & Sato Look Forward to Saturday Night’s Bommarito 500 Short Oval Race; In the Past Three Races, Sato Has a Win, Second Place and a Pole

Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingBommarito Automotive Group 500 – World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Illinois
Pre-Race Notes
Round 13 of 16 in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES

DATE:     August 21, 2021

PRACTICE BROADCAST:     Live on Peacock Premium on Saturday from 1:15 – 2:45 p.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 from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET Saturday.

RACE BROADCAST:     Live on NBCSN on Saturday, August 21 from 8 – 11 p.m. ET. And on Peacock Premium, IRN, Sirius 211 and XM 205

TRACK LAYOUT:     1.25-mile oval
RACE LENGTH:     260 laps / 325 miles

2020 WINNER(S):     Scott Dixon (Race 1) and Josef Newgarden (Race 2)
2020 POLESITTER(S):     Will Power (1-lap speed of 182.394 mph; Race 1) and Takuma Sato (1-lap speed of 182.499 mph; Race 2)

RAHAL’S BEST OVAL START / FINISH:     Pole (Kansas 2009) / 1st (Fontana 2015, 500-miles; Texas 2016)
RAHAL’S BEST WWTR START / FINISH:     7th / 10th – both in 2018; will be his 6th race here
RAHAL’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:     3 Poles – St. Pete (street) 2009, Kansas (oval) 2009, Detroit (street) 2017 / 6 Wins – St. Pete 2008, Fontana (oval; 500 miles) 2015, Mid-Ohio (road) 2015, Texas (oval) 2016; Detroit Race 1 2017, Detroit Race 2 2017

SATO’S BEST OVAL START / FINISH:     Pole (Pocono 2017, Texas 2019, WWTR Race 2 2020) / 1st (Indy 500 2017, WWTR 2019, Indy 500 2020)
SATO’S BEST WWTR START / FINISH:     1st in 2020 Race 2 / 1st in 2019; will be his 6th 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, WWTR Race 2 2020 / 6 Wins – Long Beach (2013), Indy 500 (2017), Portland (road) 2018, Barber 2019, WWTR (oval) 2019, Indy 500 (2020)

RLL’S BEST START / FINISH AT WWTR:     1st in 2020 (Race 2) by Takuma Sato/ 1st in 2019 by Takuma Sato – 10 races (1997-2000, 2003, 2017-2019, 2 in 2020)


The team returns to the 2021 Bommarito Automotive Group 500 as the defending pole sitter of Race 2 after Takuma Sato won the top starting position for that race. In Race 1, he was 0.14-seconds from becoming the first driver in almost two decades to earn back-to-back wins after winning the Indy 500 and finished second. It will be the 11th event for the team at World Wide Technology Raceway (WWTR). The 1.25-mile oval hosted CART-sanctioned races from 1997-2000 and IRL races from 2001-2003 before the IndyCar Series returned in 2017. The team competed in all four CART races from 1997-2000 and one of the three IRL races (2003).  The best starting position for the team came last year in Race 2 when Takuma Sato started from pole and the best finish came in 2019 when Takuma Sato won.  Prior to 2021, the team prepared a total of 18 Indy car entries for drivers such as Bobby Rahal (1997-1998), Bryan Herta (1997-1999), Max Papis (1999-2000), Kenny Brack (2000, 2003), Graham Rahal (2017-2020, x2) and Takuma Sato (2018-2020, x2).  The No. 15 Hy-Vee Honda entry for Graham Rahal and No. 30 Panasonic / Mi-Jack entry for Takuma Sato will bring that total to 20 in 2021.  

The 2021 race will be Rahal’s sixth at the track. His highest start is seventh and highest finish is 10th – both in 2018. In 2021, he struggled in qualifying which led to 22nd and 23rd-place starting spots for Race 1 and 2, respectively. A napkin hindered his performance in Race 1 and he soldiered on in Race 2 but neither race was indicative of his usual performance that saw him finish third in the previous short oval race in 2020 at Iowa Speedway (Race 2). Much preparation has gone into this event in particular since 2020.  
            “I think the team is super-well prepared this year,” said Rahal. “Actually we gained a lot of information last fall from an engineer that came and worked for us a little bit so we’ve got some data to look at and some stuff to understand on what went right and what went wrong. Our weekend on the 15 car was terrible last year, obviously we started at the very back on both days. Sunday, actually we were much more competitive, the problem was Sunday it was too late. We started at the back, to be able to pass was difficult because it was in the heat of the day versus this time around we’re on Saturday night. I anticipate a lot better racing, a lot better action for the fans.
            “Last year as well, on the first day we got a napkin stuck in the CCU which is the clutch control unit, and it overheated the car so we had to come to pit lane and stop because the shifting wouldn’t work and so on which was difficult and disappointing.  This time around though I think that we’ve learned a lot and we still have some preparation to go before we get there on the weekend.”

In the past three races at WWTR, Takuma Sato has a win (2019), near win (finished 2nd in Race 1 in 2020 by 0.14-seconds to Dixon) and pole (Race 2 in 2020) so he is returning with the expectation of another good race. He led 61 laps en route to victory at WWTR in 2019. He led 14 laps in Race 1 in 2020 after starting fifth and made his final stop from the lead but there was an issue on the outside rear tire that delayed the stop 2-3 seconds and he returned to the track in third rather than maintaining his position. He began pursuit of O’Ward and pulled off a decisive pass on Lap 180.  He then began cutting the two-second deficit to Dixon and set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 183 and ultimately finished a mere 0.14 behind him.  He started from pole for Race 2 and finished ninth. This will be Takuma’s sixth race here.
            “The Bommarito 500 is this weekend and it’s the only short oval event for this season. I love it, I always enjoy driving at Gateway. It’s such a challenging little track. Turn 1 and 2 is high banking but the corner radius is quite tight so you require the brake every single lap, even in qualifying. Turn 3 and 4 is more flattish so it’s much less banking, but apparently the same as Indianapolis but it doesn’t look that way. It used to be flat in qualifying, but today with the reduction of downforce, certainly last year it wasn’t the case. So, it was a great satisfaction when we got on pole last year, it was just really challenging. Last year we nearly won the race, came in second after the Indy 500 win which was fantastic. The boys did an amazing job and we started on pole too for the second race. The second race was difficult, it’s more of a track-position race, it was difficult to overtake due to some conditions that were different from race one.”

“There are two different characteristics of different corners so you can imagine engineering wise, it’s quite tough, particularly at 19-seconds per lap and two corners so it’s very fun but also mentally and physically challenging. Obviously in 2019, it was a dramatic win but it was just fantastic to achieve a win over there. It’s unpredictable in a good meaning.  St. Louis is always a fantastic race and I’m sure the fans will enjoy it too. It’s a much longer race this year compared to last year for the double header. I think the fuel consumption for Honda is always good, it definitely helped, and it’s important to be competitive in qualifying because track position is extremely important. We’ll see, but we’d love to pull another great result over there, and I think we have a good possibility. I want to reset for this short oval, it’s going to be a great evening. I hope to see everyone over there.”

“It’s a one day show,” said Graham. “I’ve been asking for these for many years and the biggest reason for that is because of the fans. I think on a one day show for the fans there’s a ton of action. We practice, go right into qualifying, then right into the race.  They get it all right in front of them at one time. I think that is an awesome way to go, so I’m glad to see that Curtis, Chris, Declan, the entire group at World Wide Technology Raceway have brought this on. But it’s going to be busy, and I think it puts a lot of pressure on us as a team.  I think that we are prepared. We’re ready to go and eager to go. Being with where we are in the championship we could use a great result, we could use a win – everyone knows that. So hopefully we’re able to get that done. I expect a lot more out of us as a team, I expect a lot more out of myself, I expect a lot more out of the handling and balance of the car so hopefully we can find a way to go forward.”
           “This year I think it will be quite tough as a single day event,” added Takuma. “About noon we have practice, then qualifying in late afternoon, and then evening we have a race. So, it’s going to be quite compressed and important to have a competitive car straight away. I think we’ve done a good preparation, we have a very good race car as a base setup.”

Graham Rahal is ranked sixth in NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings with 286 and is -41 points from fifth-place Marcus Ericsson while Takuma Sato is 11th with a total of 251.
            “At this point in the season, it’s really important that we are on top of our game,” said Rahal. “We’re sixth in points, kind of holding serve again. We had a good result last weekend in Indy but we need to get a win if we are going to find ourselves in the top three which is going to be difficult but even creeping into the top-five with Marcus having won a couple times would be good. Obviously, we are still fending off guys like Colton and Simon and so on, so we need to have a really great result.  I think Josef is within striking distance, I know that Marcus is within striking distance, so there are guys that we can get, and we need to put our heads down and make it happen.”