After spending most of his IndyCar career chasing those red #9 and #10 target cars, Takuma Sato is going to need some time to get used to sharing debriefs with Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. The lively – sometimes controversial – battles on the track? Don’t expect them to go away.
But the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, who becomes Chip Ganassi Racing’s winningest active driver at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, has an undying reverence for the team he’s about to join as an oval-only driver. in 2023. an opportunity of a lifetime,” he called it. A chance finally, at almost 46 years old, to drive for one of the two teams that have dominated the sport over the past decade.
“It’s a new chapter for me, and even though it’s a limited oval program, I’m very grateful and feel like I can try to help – even if it’s with the young driver ( and #11 teammate) Marcus Armstrong,” Sato told IndyStar in an exclusive interview. “I have to get used to watching someone else race, but you still feel like family. Chip Ganassi Racing, which is the best organization.”
But, as Sato says, that wasn’t the goal this offseason. Sato’s 2022 team boss told IndyStar on November 1 in no uncertain terms that Takuma Sato would return to Dale Coyne Racing in a part-time role in 2023, which would include being the team’s third appearance. at the Indy 500. As much as he wanted to stay full-time as he neared the age of 50, Sato had concluded that the finances weren’t there. No longer in contention for the title, his goals were to replicate his No. 2 year jump in the 500 with RLL from 2018 to 2019, when he went from 32n/a at 3rd.
Meanwhile, after learning of Jimmie Johnson’s decision to scale back full-time races, Chip Ganassi and team general manager Mike Hull had argued for months that CGR’s fourth full-time race would be driven by a single driver. . But somewhere along the line things changed – and when they did, and CGR shifted gears to hire the Formula 2 prodigy from Armstrong for a road and street role, Sato couldn’t afford not to rethink his options.
“This opportunity to join Chip Ganassi Racing was something I never anticipated or even dreamed of,” he told IndyStar. “You never expect to join this type of team, but when something like this is available, for me it was a perfect opportunity. There is such an opportunity to challenge at the highest level, working with those teammates who have (recently) won the championship and the 500 and will have another real shot at aiming for another 500.
“It’s hard to deny, even though it’s a limited program. I feel really sad to break up with the boys from my Dale Coyne Racing team, but it happens so often with teams and drivers that hang around. This is an opportunity to take on a new challenge.
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While there is still a chance that CGR could see Johnson return part-time – likely only for his second 500m race – Sato completes a four-car Ganassi lineup for the 500 that is as formidable as any in the paddock. With a total of four 500 wins across its driver lineup, only Meyer Shank Racing (backed by four from Helio Castroneves) has more. Apart from Marcus Ericsson’s win a year ago, Ganassi was the strongest team in 2022, taking the top two qualifying spots (with Dixon on pole) and placing its four most experienced drivers in the top 6 qualifiers. If Dixon hadn’t taken a late speeding penalty in the pit lane, he probably would have been the dominant winner. A year away from second place in 2021, Alex Palou saw his chances of winning the race nullified by an ill-timed warning, but fought back to finish 9e. In a unique role, 2013 winner Tony Kanaan was right there battling for his second win and finished 3rd.
Even more so than before, Sato’s arrival at Ganassi sets up a much-anticipated battle with Arrow McLaren, whose four-car lineup includes drivers who finished 2n/a (Pato O’Ward), 3rd (Canaan),e (Felix Rosenqvist) and 5e (Alexander Rossi).
With no IndyCar program of any kind for 2024 or beyond, Sato says he doesn’t yet know if this jump to a fifth different team in eight years will mark the end of his career. As he aims to grow from a class of 20 multiple 500 winners to a group of just 10 who have won it three or more times, the Japanese rider is hoping to end his career on his terms. Regardless of what the future holds, however, Sato says he couldn’t have chosen a better next chapter in his career – even if it’s the end of a career spanning more than a decade. decade in IndyCar.
“From a driver’s perspective, you always want to be the best among your teammates, but you feel pure joy if you can win as a team because you’re part of it,” he said. “We’re going to work so hard to put things together and have another dominant year for Chip Ganassi Racing. IndyCar is about (winning) the 500, the ultimate goal, and we’ll definitely be the top contender.