Takuma Sato

It’s been five years since Takuma Sato raced for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and almost won the Indianapolis 500, which he lost in a last-lap shootout with Dario Franchitti.

The 40-year-old Tokyo native returns next season to RLL as the reigning Indy 500 champion to team with Graham Rahal, the team announced today. Sato spent this past season with Andretti Autosport following four with AJ Foyt Racing.

Takuma Sato and Bobby Rahal“We’re pleased to have Takuma back,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of the team with late-night talk-show icon David Letterman and Mike Lanigan. “He’s a hell of a driver. This year has been a very good year for him. Yeah, he won Indy, but at times he was the best of the Andretti cars.

“In Takuma, you’re going to get everything he’s got. He’s a real pro. He shows up ready to go. No excuses. He’s single-minded about it all. He and Graham will work well together and they get along. The ideal is you have two really good guys and they drag the team up with them.”

Bobby Rahal likened the situation to when he was Galles-Kraco Racing teammates with Al Unser Jr. in 1990 and 1991. Unser won the Indy car championship in 1990 while Rahal finished fourth, and they were second and third the next year.

“I am extremely happy to be back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” Sato said in a team release. “Bobby, Dave and Mike have always been very supportive of me. The team has been ultra-competitive the past few seasons. I can’t wait to be a part of it in 2018. I think we can achieve some great things together.”

Unlike five years ago, when Sato crashed out after bumping with Franchitti on the final lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Japanese driver outdueled three-time winner Helio Castroneves to achieve a career-defining May victory in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Sato’s only other Verizon IndyCar Series victory came in the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for A.J. Foyt Racing.

“It’s great to have him and the addition of a second car,” Graham Rahal said. “From what I hear, he’s very technically savvy and he’s obviously won races, an Indy 500 champion. Hopefully he’ll help us a lot. We’ve been pretty strong, but Takuma has got great speed, so it will be interesting to learn from him and see some of that. He’s a very experienced guy, he’s been all over the world, (driven in) Formula One, so it will be fun to have him.”

Graham Rahal finished sixth in the points this season, two spots ahead of Sato. But eighth was Sato’s career-best points finish with four top-five finishes.

Sato started 90 Formula One races from 2002-08, with his highest finish a third at the 2003 U.S. Grand Prix at IMS, before becoming a Verizon IndyCar Series regular in 2010 for KV Racing Technology. He’s won seven poles in 135 Verizon IndyCar Series starts.

In his previous season racing for Rahal Letterman Lanigan five years ago, Sato’s best finishes were a second at Edmonton and third in Brazil. He finished 14th in the points. (Sato is shown above right in his 2012 Indy 500 qualifying photo with the team.)