Takuma Sato spent 13 seasons in the NTT IndyCar series competing with Chip Ganassi Racing, primarily in the Indy 500.
Although suffered wheel-to-wheel defeat Dario Franchitti in Turn 1 on the final lap of a 2012 thriller at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sato was there too – outdueling Scott Dixon in 2012 for his second Indy 500 victory.
So Ganassi lost to the champions. He beat them.
And now he joins them.
“I’ve always competed and tried to beat Chip Ganassi Racing this whole season,” Sato told NBC Sports with a laugh about the news that Ganassi will drive the No. 11 Dallara-Honda races on ovals in the 2023 IndyCar season. “Now I have the incredible opportunity of my life to join them. Just being a part of the entire Chip Ganassi Racing organization is just such a proud moment too. I’m just looking forward to working with all the team members who have won championships and 500s.
“This is just an amazing opportunity, an incredible moment. Now I’m in a team that I’ve always been chasing. I don’t know how to express my feelings, but I can’t wait to get started.
Sato, who turns 46 later this month, will have to wait a little longer than usual.
His first of five Ganassi races this year will be the second on the 2023 schedule, April 2 at the Texas Motor Speedway. His absence from the grid at the March 5 opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, will snap his streak of 216 consecutive IndyCar races.
Apart from the 2010 race at Texas (which Sato missed after a crash in qualifying), he has been at the start of every IndyCar race since his debut at the 2010 season opener in Brazil.
Although Sato admits it’s a “new chapter” that he never expected, it also equates to an opportunity to compete in the Indy 500 for Ganassi (who dominated last May at the Brickyard. in the determinative and gender day) competing full time championship.
“You always dream of racing in the best possible environment, but Chip Ganassi Racing is always the highest job in the business,” Sato said. “That’s a doubt. It’s always been like this for 30 years. It’s the last time of my life, but it’s time.
“Yes, I will probably miss the feeling of going to different places race by race and I will visit different road races, road races, short ovals, superspeedways. This is the attractive part of IndyCar racing that I probably miss a lot. But then it is on a different side only knowing that for each and every one (oval type), you will have the opportunity at the highest level. I’m sure we’ll be working so hard, but I can’t wait to join the team properly and I’m just looking forward to working together. We are already starting some engineering projects. It’s an incredible opportunity. I’m so excited.”
After becoming the first Japanese driver to win the Indy 500 in 2017, Sato took another shot at IMS history by joining the prestigious club of Indy legends.
After Indy 500 victories with Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingSato now has a serious shot with Ganassi, who is coming off his fifth Indy 500 victory.
Ten drivers have won at least three Indy 500s, and only three have won Indy with three different teams: Al Unser, Bobby Unser and AJ Foyt. Sato became the fourth.
“They have always been a tough competitor in the field, but recently, especially last year, their dominance in the Indy 500 was simply more than impressive,” said Sato Ganassi, who has 14 IndyCar championships (including nine in the past 15 seasons). “They are always in the game, and I think that is the strength of the team. Not just one element, but all of them individually and working together.”
Sato is looking forward to working with his new teammates. It still has Mark Armstrong; who will force the communicants n. 11 in the streets and highwaysbut Sato has strong relationships with 2022 Indy 500 winner Marco Ericsson and 2021 series champion Alex Palou.
And then there’s Dixon, who is a bit of a contemporary at 42 though 153 more career starts than Sato;
“I’m so grateful to be part of the team and with such a teammate like Dixie,” Sato said. “We’ve had such respect for a long, long time, but we always have a real rivalry there because we’re not on the same team. Now, even though the healthy competition is always still there, he will be the driver to bring us to the level of the whole team.”
After earning six victories, 14 podium finishes and 10 poles in 13 seasons in IndyCar, Sato and Ganassi have expectations beyond Indy.
He believes he can challenge for wins in the other four races at Texas (where he qualified for the third time last year), the Iowa Understroke doubler (site of his first career pole in 2011) and World Technology Raceway in Gateway (where they scored a memorable win in 2019 and the second in 2010).
“I’m certainly confident that we can be up to speed very quickly with Chip Ganassi’s organization,” he said. “Every single race (oval) I have some great memories. So it would be fantastic for everyone to challenge.
The future may depend. Sato’s contract runs through 2023, but he’s not ready to say this will be his last season in IndyCar.
“It’s uncertain and open,” Sato said. “I don’t want to talk too much about the future, but certainly 2023 is a completely new challenge. I don’t have a contract for 2024. But if this program has certainly opened the door to another new opportunity, I would take it seriously. I would love to hold the course as much as I can, if I feel a comfortable environment, which is more than you can dream of, an incredible opportunity. I would like to thank everyone who made this happen.”
He thanked Dale Coyne and Rick Ware, co-owners of the No. 51 Dallara-Honda drives for the 2022 season. Cuyne had said The pain wanted to save Satowho indicated that both Coyne and Ware took full time in 2023.
“Sato,” said Sato, who had a fifth-best season with 19 of themth* in the 2022 points standings (his worst showing from his rookie year). “They did a fantastic job all season, but the end result is not what we wanted. I am only grateful for what they have done for me and what we have to achieve.
“For me to enter full-time, we would like to have the opportunity, but again in business, it is so difficult to put all this together. I had to choose what the next chapter is for me and joining Chip Ganassi Racing is without a doubt one of the most exciting moments in my racing career.
Ware also owns a NASCAR team and told the SiriusXM NASCAR Channel recently that he wants Sato in a Copa Series race now that the field has opened up his racing schedule. Motorsport.com also reported on IMSA racing they were held for Sato.
Sato told NBC Sports that a NASCAR race could take place at Ware, and also plans to move into the driver’s role.
“I think the option is open again,” Sato said. “Like this announcement, life is full of surprises too. Things happen that you never think of. For sure, I won’t think too much about other things because I really want to concentrate 100 percent with what we are doing on this occasion and plan.
“But again, the future will be absolutely open. And one of the things I’m looking forward to is working with a new generation of young Japanese drivers to bring to the IndyCar series. That’s what we need. If I could become a bridge between the two, that would be fantastic. But first, also a job It could become mine. It will be a fantastic opportunity to work with Chip Ganassi Racing.
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