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Mar 25, 2014 - 05:44 PM
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2014 St. Petersburg: Rahal Letterman Lanigan IndyCar Race Preview
Posted by: newsla on Mar 25, 2014 - 05:43 PM
IndyCar Weekend Team Reports
2014 St. Petersburg: Rahal Letterman Lanigan IndyCar Race Preview


The 2014 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the seventh IndyCar Series race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) in St. Petersburg. RLL has entered the No. 15 National Guard entry for Graham Rahal and will expand to two cars for the next four events to include the No. 16 entry for Oriol Servia. The National Guard entry will bring the team’s total to 11 entries for this event. The team previously prepared Indy cars for Danica Patrick (2005-2006), Buddy Rice (2005-2006), Vitor Meira (2005), Jeff Simmons (2007), Scott Sharp (2007), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008), Takuma Sato (2012), Graham Rahal (2013) and James Jakes (2013) here. The team led the race for four laps with Hunter-Reay in 2008 but a different Rahal – Graham – won the event. In 2013, Rahal had electrical issues that shut of his engine and dropped him to the back but he soldiered on to finish 13th. Jakes had fueling issues and finished 15th. RLL has earned three top-10 finishes with the best being fifth by Meira in 2005. The highest starting position by the team is sixth place by Hunter-Reay in 2008.


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In 2014, Graham will compete in his seventh event here. After his history-making win here in 2008 with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) at the age of 19 years, 93 days, he won pole in 2009 with NHLR to also become the youngest pole winner in series history. He was hit from behind on the opening lap and finished seventh. In his other starts here, he qualified 15th in 2013 for RLL and was in ninth place when the team discovered an electrical issue on Lap 22 under caution that shut the engine off intermittently 6-7 times and dropped him to 21st place. He soldiered on to finish 13th. He qualified 11th in 2012 and finished 12th and qualified 12th in 2011 and finished 17th – both for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing (SCCGR). He qualified 16th and finished 9th for Sarah Fisher Racing in 2010. While with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, he won pole in 2009 and finished seventh and qualified ninth, led 19 laps and won in his series debut in ‘08 at the age of 19 years, 93 days old.
He is one of five former previous race winners entered this year: James Hinchcliffe (2013), Helio Castroneves (2006, 2007 and 2012), Will Power (2010), Ryan Briscoe (2009) and Graham Rahal (2008). Graham is excited starting a new season with a clean slate.
“I can’t wait to get this season started, to get our National Guard car out there and get racing. It’s like being a kid on Christmas day. We all wait for this time of the year to get going, and it’s finally here. St. Pete is a special place for me, so I hope it all starts off just like it should! It’s really just difficult because it’s pretty tight, there is zero margin for error and that makes it extremely demanding.”


During the off-season, the team has made some additions to improve the level of competition. Bill Pappas, who has over 25 years of racing experience, joined the team as Rahal’s race engineer. Most recently he served as Justin Wilson’s engineer at Dale Coyne Racing (DCR). John Dick returned to the team in the capacity of Head of Research and Development to the IndyCar Series program. He also most recently served as a race engineer at DCR. Those two, coupled with team manager Ricardo Nault, who joined the team 21 years ago in 1994, crew chief Mitch Davis, and chief mechanic Donny Stewart, who has been with Rahal since his beginning in go-karting, make a formidable leadership combination. Eddie Jones, who will be Servia’s race engineer, is a bonus to Rahal’s program.

“I think we have a great future ahead of us as a team,” said Rahal. “We made a lot of changes this winter. I’m sure there is still some learning to do, but I really believe we have strengthened the organization and it should pay big dividends for us in the future.”


Manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda returned to the series in 2012. For the 2014 season, both manufacturers will supply twin-turbocharged, direct-injection engines fueled by E85.

“It seems to be running well,” Rahal said of Honda’s new twin turbo engine. “We have to keep making gains with it and adjusting it to fit my driving style but I do feel like it has a great amount of potential. As always we will have to see what qualifying and the race brings in regard to competitiveness but I feel very positive about where Honda is with the engine.”
“I think HPD (Honda Performance Development) has done a really good job,” added Pappas. ‘We haven’t had any issues since we’ve run it. Barber was obviously the first test where everyone was together and the Honda’s certainly looked to be just as strong as the Chevrolets.”


“I think it has been very good. I have been able to understand Graham and his needs. I think we have resolved a lot of the issues he was having last year. We have gone down, and looked at, some different paths to try to optimize the package better than what we’ve had in the past from where he was before. So all in all I think we’ve had a good series of tests. For St. Pete, you need a lot of overall grip. If you can reduce under steer, I think you will have a fast car. That’s what the drivers seem to complain about there when you talk to everyone after the weekend.”


In 2013, Bobby Rahal provided race strategy information over the radio to Graham. In 2014, Crew Chief Mitch Davis will take over that role and work with race engineer Bill Pappas, who will manage race strategy. Davis handled this role at Auto Club Speedway while Bobby Rahal was at Petit Le Mans with the team’s sport car program.

“It will be different for sure, but I think it will all work really well,” said Graham about the change. “I am excited to have Bill and Mitch with us, I think they add a lot to this team and we should see some great results in our future.”


The 10-grid-spot penalty levied on an entry whose engine was changed before it met the mileage threshold or surpassed the mandated number of engines for the season has been removed. Instead, 10 points will be deducted from the manufacturer's total for each occurrence. Entrant-initiated engine change-outs will result in the loss of 10 driver and entrant points. An unapproved engine change-out by an entry will result in it starting from the rear of the grid in the next race. No engine change-out grid penalties will be served during the Indianapolis 500. Penalties carried over into or earned at the Indianapolis 500 will be served at the subsequent race. Graham thinks this is a positive change.

“Its great for the teams, Honda has done a great job but the teams sometimes were penalized for things out of our control,” said Rahal. “Like I have experienced before when you qualify well but get moved to the back on some of these street courses it makes life difficult, so I think this was a great move by the series.”

“I think that it’s great,” added Pappas. “I don’t think the team should be penalized for manufacturer issues whether its reliability or pushing the envelope that leads to failing engines. It’s good that the teams will no longer be penalized in that situation.”


Verizon IndyCar Series teams will benefit from new regulations regarding Firestone tire allotment written into the 2014 series rulebook. Each entry will receive credit for new tires remaining from its race event allotment. After a street course event, one set of new primary tires remaining may be carried forward to a future street course event and added to the entry’s allotment. Any remaining new tires from an entry’s event allotment may be added to the entry’s test allotment. Remaining new sets of alternate tires will be returned to the entrant as primary tires. Each entry is permitted a total of 54 sets of tires (primary or wet) for their 18 test days through the end of the season, and the carryover tires must be the correct specification for the circuit.

“Another great idea to add a new mix to the series,” said Rahal. “I don’t know how much it will change things as that’s more of an engineering question, but all in all I think it’s an interesting idea.”

“I think it is a great idea,” added Pappas. “You want to use all of the tires on a race weekend but unfortunate circumstances will allow us to carry tires over from a place like St. Pete (street course) to Long Beach (street course). If you don’t use all your tires, you get an extra couple of sets to try to run more laps in that first session of the next similar event so it should be helpful for all the teams.”

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