Motor racing - Sato feels like a kid again ahead of debut with new team

FILE PHOTO: Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato poses during a visit to the Empire State Building in New York City, U.S., May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) - Two-time Indianapolis 500 Champion Takuma Sato said on Monday that switching to a new team is never easy but he is excited for the challenge that awaits as he prepares for his debut with Dale Coyne Racing next month.

Sato, the only Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500, signed with Dale Coyne Racing for the 2022 IndyCar Series season and the 44-year-old said he cannot help but feel young again as he closes in on his first start with the team.

"Just like a kid have a new Christmas present," Sato said during a news conference. "It's just excitement as well a little bit nervous in what's going on. We just don't know. Moving to the new team isn't necessarily always easy thing.

"The flipside, it's always dramatically exciting because the future we can make it together. That hope and excitement is the same level between team and myself. We both very, very, yeah, looking forward to the first race."

Sato, who has six wins and 10 poles in 199 career IndyCar races dating back to his rookie season in 2010, spent the past four years with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

He now replaces Romain Grosjean, who is now with Andretti Autosport, and will make his Dale Coyne Racing debut at the Feb. 27 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Sato, who hopes to win a third Indy 500 with three different teams after victories with Andretti Autosport in 2017 and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2020, said he and team owner Coyne should complement each other nicely.

"It's natural bonding we bring on the table with both sides of the experience," said Sato. "Dale, the car is extremely competitive in terms of road speed.

"What I've experienced in the past few years, in particular with the winnings on the 500, that's something that I can support to the Dale. We will see if that magical, chemical reaction starts."

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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