Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ready for their 1st Sao Paulo race

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

FIRST INDY CAR RACE FOR RLL IN SAO PAULO; SIXTH IN BRAZIL

Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda
Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda

Photo by: Bob Heathcote

The Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 Nestlé marks Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s first time to compete on the Streets of São Paulo. Previously the team competed in five CART-sanctioned events in Rio de Janeiro from 1996-2000 with Bobby Rahal (1996-1998), Bryan Herta (1996-99), Max Papis (1999-00), and Kenny Brack (2000). The best start for the team on the 1.86-mile, D-shaped oval in Rio was third by Rahal in 1997. The team’s best finish in Brazil is fourth, by Herta (1998) and Papis (1999). Over the 10 entries between 1996-00, the team had four top-five and eight top-10 starts as well as two top-five and seven top-10 finishes (chart available). The team will field the No. 15 entry for Takuma Sato in São Paulo.

SATO’S NEAR WIN IN THE 2011 BRAZIL INDYCAR RACE

The 2012 event will mark Takuma Sato’s third IndyCar Series race here and ninth overall in the country of Brazil. Sato competed in Formula One races in Brazil at Interlagos five times (2002, 2004-2007) with a best start and finish of sixth place – both in 2004 for BAR-Honda. In the 2011 IndyCar Series race, Sato came up 10 minutes short of potentially claiming his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory. The race was postponed from Sunday due to poor visibility caused by persistent rain and approaching dusk. On Monday, the race resumed from Lap 15-on with a time limit but the rain continued as well. Sato led Laps 26-48 in the timed race that ended after Lap 55. Had a caution flag come out while Sato was leading, he may have been able to stretch his fuel and claim victory but the race stayed green and he was forced to pit on Lap 48 of what became a 55-lap race and finished eighth, which is his best series finish to date here.

“The first year was my debut race in the IndyCar Series and it was good to start from the top-10,” recalled Sato. “However, sadly, it ended too soon immediately; after the start so I wasn't really able to race. The second year was a great memory. It was my first-ever rain race in my IndyCar career but I had great confidence about that and was able to move up the field by overtaking several cars and I led a lot of the race. That was extremely exciting. Unfortunately though, we made a mistake on strategy and I had to come in for a splash of fuel a few laps from the end so we couldn't achieve what we wanted but it was encouraging.”

SATO IN 2012 – HAS LED TWO OF THREE EVENTS

In three IZOD IndyCar Series races to date, Sato has led two of the three events. He led the St. Petersburg season-opening race twice and led once at Round 3 in Long Beach for a total of 27 laps. Unfortunately he has yet to finish an event after succumbing to mechanical failure in St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park and was hit on the final lap in Long Beach while en route to his best series finish of third place. He was scored in eighth place. He has a total of 48 points and is ranked 16th in series standings after three of 16 events.

HUGHES ON CREATING A BASELINE SETUP FOR THE TEAM’S FIRST BRAZIL STREET RACE

Sato’s race engineer Gerry Hughes joined the team prior to the start of the season and has 24 years of trackside engineering experience in series such as Formula One, GP2, A1GP, British Touring Cars, Formula 3 and Opel Lotus. The move reunited Hughes with team co-owner Bobby Rahal, technical director Jay O’Connell and driver Sato. It is his first season in the IndyCar Series as well as the first time for the team to compete on the street course in Sao Paulo, an event that is in its third year on the series schedule. Hughes discusses the process to create a baseline setup for the team’s first event at the track.

“Preparing for the unknown is always a challenge, especially when a team has no historical data on which to draw. Having been in this situation before both in Formula One and other formulae, there are a number of key things that I look for, and without giving too much away, you find yourself looking for information across a range of information portals, which may include other formulae that have raced at the circuit, from which you can compare data or even, dare I say it -- the internet. I have in the past developed circuit simulations, for a number of circuits that we had never visited and had absolutely no information for, from Google Earth - F1 purists would be horrified!”

HUGHES ON THE TYPE OF DATA ACCESSED

“Well, in the simplest forms, the IndyCar IRIS website gives one a huge amount of information about any circuit that one has not visited. Even getting an impression of the EOS (end of straight) and VMax (top speeds), for a given circuit gives one a heads-up on the gearing in top gear of sixth for a given configuration and all of this is valuable information.”

SATO ON THE 2.6-MILE, 11-TURN STREET COURSE

“I think the Sao Paulo street course is very unique; it has got one of the longest and bumpiest straights followed by such a tight hairpin which requires heavy braking. The complexes after the second straight are quite narrow and the car needs good traction as well as the ability to quickly change direction so it's challenging.”

HUGHES ON THE IMPACT OF THE LONGEST STRAIGHTAWAY OF THE SEASON

“The long straight at the Sao Paulo Street Circuit will invariably drive set-ups towards lower downforce/drag configurations but overall lap time, as always, will be very driven by the balance between grip versus downforce and the effect that the latter has on tire performance for a given set of circuit conditions.”

SATO AND HUGHES ON THE CHALLENGING, SHORTER TWO-DAY FORMAT AND WEATHER LIMITATIONS

“Saturday will be a very busy day for everyone for sure,” said Sato. “The mechanics have to work the whole day as there are both practice sessions and qualifying so we have to make sure we won't have any trouble. Also, the engineers won't have enough time to go through all the details of data and analysis so we need to make very quick decisions. As a driver, I don't mind driving the whole day!”

Going in to any weekend where there is absolutely no historical data or team experience of a particular circuit is, I suppose, a bit of a daunting experience and is somewhat compounded by a two-day race weekend,” added Hughes. “However, as all of these events and circuits are all new to me, I suppose that my perspective is somewhat different from others in the team. My experiences of the weather in Sao Paulo have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous!”

SATO ON THE BRAZILIAN FANS AND HIS DREAM OF RACING BEING ENCOURAGED BY SENNA

“It's just fantastic. Brazil has a huge racing history and so many of the greatest drivers are Brazilian. Fans know about racing and I feel tremendous passion from them.

“I never had a chance to meet him (Senna) but I saw him racing when I was 10 years old and that day my dream (of racing) really started. His speed, the way he raced, his attitude and everything was all about winning the race. I like his personality as well so he is my hero even today.”

SATO ON JETLAG – AND HIS 20k+ AIR MILES SINCE THE LAST RACE

“Yes, I do get jet lagged but I am just used to it. After Long Beach, I was in Monaco four days, Korea two days, back in Monaco one night and then I came to Brazil. I spent four nights in an airplane. There is not a secret to dealing with jetlag but to try to stay awake in daytime then you can sleep at night!”

HUGHES ON THE CHALLENGES OF “FLY-AWAY” (CARGO) RACES

“IndyCar is a very different series to that of Formula One, where the latter has become predominantly a 'flyaway' race series and the numbers of races actually held in Europe have dwindled to only 11 out of the 20 races being held in 2012. Flyaway race events are fun but there is an art to packaging team equipment and ensuring that the equipment being transported is fundamental to the operation of the team and that the culture of 'we should take just in case' is carefully managed. I am not sure of the costs involved in IndyCar but in Formula One currently every 1.0 kgs (2.2 Lbs) of equipment being transported costs approximately $15.00 (both outbound and return), so the costs quickly mount up, and those guys are transporting up to 40,000 kgs of equipment!”

HUGHES ON HIS PREVIOUS RACES IN BRAZIL

“The very first driver that I worked with in Formula One came from Sao Paulo and so for me, it is a very special place. Although we will not be racing on the Interlagos Circuit, I will enjoy the experience and, as it will be in excess of my 13th visit to the country, I am no stranger to the place or its fine array of meat restaurants!”

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Series INDYCAR
Tags brazil, honda, lanigan, letterman, rahal, sato