Although it’s been a struggle for most of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, the team stands a good chance of playing spoiler to the proverbial heavy hitters this weekend. It’s a race promoted by team co-owner, Mike Lanigan.
RLL enters the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader weekend with Graham Rahal riding renewed confidence and momentum in working with new engineer Neil Fife, and James Jakes seeking his third Firestone Fast Six appearance on a street course.
Rahal’s been busy during IndyCar’s month-long break, having participated in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course test and providing invaluable feedback for the series as it plans for the race on the road course there next year.
After only one start better than 15th on the series’ first nine road and street course races, Rahal qualified eighth at Sonoma and should have made the Firestone Fast Six at Baltimore, before his two fastest laps were deleted for causing a red flag. He still started 12th and was a passing demon in the early stages. Additionally, his best result of the year came on a street course, with second place at Long Beach.
“We absolutely had a turn around coming out of Mid Ohio into Sonoma,” Rahal said of the recent surge. “Suddenly our team started to click with (race engineer) Neil (Fife) in charge. We found a balance I felt confident in and started to put in some great laps. I wish we could have the ultimate results we deserved, but we certainly have been amongst the quickest for the last couple of races.”
Rahal races this weekend in the blu eCigs livery for another race, but with a matte black finish and blue accents, as opposed to a white, blue and black livery he had run earlier this season on his No. 15 Honda. He scored his first IndyCar (then Champ Car) podium at Houston, finishing second to teammate Sebastien Bourdais in 2007.
Jakes, meanwhile, can complete a trifecta of Firestone Fast Six appearances for the first half of doubleheader races this season. He and Dario Franchitti, who scored pole for Race 1 at both Detroit and Toronto, are the only two drivers in the field with that opportunity. Jakes finished a career-best second at Detroit Race 2 and generally has been down on luck and reliability, but not on pace of late in the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda.
“I think we have to be looking at the top three and nowhere else,” said Jakes, whose best starts this year is second for Duel 2 in Detroit. “We have been competitive on the street tracks for the most part this season and there is no reason why it should change. I’m really looking forward to the challenge of the weekend and getting a solid result on the final street track of the year.”