INDIANAPOLIS — On Tuesday morning, the news was confirmed that Takuma Sato would become the oval specialist for the Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 11 Dallara-Honda. The two-time Indianapolis 500 champion will drive the car in all five oval events during the upcoming season, while Marcus Armstrong will race the car in the remaining 12 road/street courses.
With that said, here are my top 5 takeaways from this dealing.
Stars Aligned On This One
If you asked me early this past Fall if Takuma Sato could end up racing for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2023, I’d have called you crazy. Dale Coyne Racing and Rick Ware Racing were ecstatic with Sato’s services from the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season and likewise back with Sato’s assessments of the team. They even had a contract in place for 2023 already too.
However, it honestly took the stars aligning to lead Sato away from DCR/HMD and with Ganassi.
The first step was Jimmie Johnson scaling back his time in INDYCAR. That also took away Carvana’s money with him in the process. Then with NTT Data leaving Ganassi for Arrow McLaren too, it meant that Ganassi was looking for some pay drivers for that fourth and final full-time entry.
Carvana and NTT Data are two huge sponsors to depart the organization and in order to fund a team of Ganassi’s caliber, you need that financial backing that they now didn’t have as much of.
Then comes Sato’s unfortunate circumstances that led to a decrease in his personal funding for an INDYCAR ride. The Japanese driver has always had large support from Japanese companies in Honda and Panasonic. While he still has their funding in his pocket, it’s just not on the scale that it has been.
That meant DCR/RWR had to make concessions too. Which ultimately led to them having newer conversations about part-time services instead of a full season endeavor? In turn, it also let the door open for Sato to look outside of the DCR/RWR camp, because it completely altered the contract they were operating on, which was on the basis of a full-time ride in 2023. Now that part-time was being discussed, the contract had to be reworded and changed and while that door was open, it allowed Sato to look around on his behalf too.
Back to Ganassi…
Ganassi wanted a singular driver for their final entry but with those efforts waning, Marcus Armstrong had a budget to run part-time. Sato remember, has help from Honda and some funding to land him part-time too. By Ganassi entertaining bringing on Sato, it helps funnel other funding back to the 8, 9 and 10 entries and helps fill out that 11 cars planning.
Sato had enough to not only help this work on the 11 car, but help repurpose other sponsors to the other 3 cars.
That’s ultimately what led Sato to Ganassi, but it took a lot of steps to get there.
Ganassi Taking It To Arrow McLaren Now
When Arrow McLaren announced last May that they had come to an agreement to retain Pato O’Ward, then a week later announced that Alexander Rossi would join the organization for 2023, the ball was rolling that they were going to be a formidable foe to the Penske’s and Ganassi’s for the 2023 Indy 500. Then with them also retaining Felix Rosenqvist this past Fall and soon afterwards signing Tony Kanaan, McLaren had secured the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th placed finishers in last year’s race to put them all under one umbrella for next May’s Indy 500.
It was seemingly becoming their race to lose.
Ganassi now is saying, not so fast.
They bring back the defending Indy 500 champion in Marcus Ericsson. Also returning is the two-time defending Indy 500 pole sitter and all-time lap leader Scott Dixon. So is Alex Palou who finished runner-up in 2021 and if not for a bad pit stop last year he’d have another top 5 at the very minimum. Now, they bring on Sato as their teammate for which he has a pair of Indy 500 wins, each coming since 2017 and all coming with a different team. Sato was arguably the top Honda driver outside of the Ganassi camp last Month of May. Now he joins them.
Best Opportunity For Sato, Can Win All 5 Oval Races
This isn’t what Sato desires in terms of a racing schedule for 2023. He’d honestly love to be full-time. But, with what he’s now secured for part-time, well it’s next best. In fact, Sato has the rare chance to be in the hunt to win all 5 of his appearances in 2023.
First up is Texas to where he’s always fast at. In fact, he started 3rd with DCR/RWR last year. Imagine what he could do with a Ganassi car. Then it’s to Indy to where he’s always fast at and now inheriting a Ganassi Honda. After is to Iowa (doubleheader) to where he won his first career pole there and was third as recently as 2018 and 10th last year. To wrap up his oval schedule is in World Wide Technology Raceway to where Sato boasts six consecutive Top-10 finishes including a win in 2019, a runner-up in 2020, sixth in 2021 and fifth last year.
Can Sato Win 3rd Indy 500 For 3rd Team?
Takuma Sato could enter rare air with an Indy 500 win in May. He’s drank the milk twice after an Indy 500 triumph. He’s actively searching for a 3rd opportunity at doing so.
10 drivers have won this race 3 or more times with only 4 of the 10 having won this prestigious event a record setting four times. Sato can become the 11th in May.
What’s even more rare about this is, if he win, this would mark the third team he’s won Indy with. Only three drivers (Al Unser, Bobby Unser and AJ Foyt) have accomplished that feat. 2 of the 3 are in the 4-win club.
Sato inherits arguably the top Indy team over the last few years.
Ganassi took 4 of the top 6 starters in 2022 including 2 drivers on the front row. They combined to lead 163 of 200 laps last May and put 2 cars in the top 3 of the final finishing order.
In 2021, they had 4 of the top 9 starters including 2 more on the front row with leading 42 of 200 laps and having 3 finishers in the top 11 including a runner-up.
In 2020, they led 119 of 200 laps and had the 2nd place finisher.
That’s 324 of 600 (54%) of the overall laps led in the Aeroscreen era and now you hand them Sato…
Ganassi has won 5 Indy 500’s in their history.
Streak Is Over
One bad thing about Sato being part-time is that his long streak will now end in early March at St. Pete. Sato attempted to qualify for every INDYCAR race since his debut in 2010. The only one he missed was Texas in 2020 when he crashed in qualifying and the car couldn’t be repaired in time.