Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Graham Rahal removes his earplugs near his father, Bobby Rahal, after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in Indianapolis

Rahal, Hildebrand celebrate early January birthdays, seek better 2014s


Two of America’s up-and-coming IndyCar drivers have had birthdays in the last 24 hours, and each seeks a bounceback 2014 season.

Graham Rahal turns 25 today. The son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby also drives for his father’s IndyCar team, and has already enjoyed a pair of successful tests this offseason working with new engineer Bill Pappas. Pappas hopes to help turn the team’s fortunes around after a trying 2013 that had more valleys than peaks; still, Graham impressed on several occasions including at Long Beach (second), Iowa (fifth), and Baltimore (fastest car on track until late contact with Tony Kanaan).

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team has not yet announced its commercial partnerships or second driver for its IndyCar program this year. Rahal and teammate James Jakes ended the 2013 IndyCar season in 18th and 19th in the points standings. Rahal is also testing for BMW Team RLL this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, but is not yet confirmed for the race in the team’s GTLM class BMW Z4 GTLM.

Meanwhile JR Hildebrand turned 26 on Friday. Hildebrand endured a nightmarish 2013 that saw his contract at Panther Racing terminated after the Indianapolis 500, his car broken into with items stolen, and then needing to ward off an attempted robbery. On-track, he resurfaced with Bryan Herta’s Barracuda Racing outfit at Sonoma and Fontana, and nearly won the last race of the year.

A talented driver who seems to have been forgotten in the silly season discussions, it would be great to see Hildebrand earn another IndyCar opportunity with a different team in 2014.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Luca Filippi

Josef Newgarden, Luca Filippi
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, in 2015. Luca Filippi ended 21st in the No. 20 car, running the road and street course races for CFH Racing.

Luca Filippi, No. 20 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 28th Place, 4 starts
  • 2015: 21st Place (10 starts), Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 6th, 1 Podium, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 2 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 13.9 Avg. Finish

After part-time runs with Bryan Herta Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2013 and 2014, likable Italian Luca Filippi finally got his first full part-time season as the road and street course replacement at CFH Racing, replacing Mike Conway. Having won twice last year, Conway left some decently big shoes to fill and Filippi did a fair job throughout the year more often than not.

Filippi had a slightly better grid position average than did Conway, 12.4 to 13, and was slightly better overall in the races. In 10 races (including one with double points), Filippi scored 182 points and four top-10 finishes (including one top-five). A year ago, Conway scored 252 points from 12 starts, but only two top-10 finishes (both were wins). Broken down, Conway averaged 21 points per race (about a 10th place result) and Filippi 18.2 (about 12th).

Thing was last year, Conway didn’t have a measuring stick as ECR was a single-car team. In the combined two-car CFH Racing organization, Filippi had Josef Newgarden as a teammate, and that provided a more accurate measuring stick. In their 10 races together, Newgarden finished ahead 7-3, and also qualified ahead 7-3.

Filippi felt more comfortable as the year progressed – keep in mind this was the first time he’d seen most of the tracks – and at places like Toronto and Mid-Ohio where had had past track experience, he shone brightest. It was no coincidence his lone Firestone Fast Six appearance and first career podium came at Toronto, and at Mid-Ohio he was also very quick but caught out by strategy in the race.

During the year, Filippi also had two other key moments of note, one personal and one professional. He became a dad prior to Mid-Ohio, and was embracing his newborn shortly after the race not long after. Professionally speaking, he made his oval test debut at Iowa, which was important to note in case CFH wants to continue on with him next year, as seems possible. It was a good year that planted the seed for further success in the future, provided he continues in North America.

Marcos Ambrose will retire from racing full time

Marcos Ambrose

Former NASCAR winner Marcos Ambrose’s full-time racing career appears to have reached the finish line.

DJR Team Penske announced Monday an expansion to two cars in the V8 Supercars Championship next season with Fabian Coulthard and Scott Pye running Ford Falcons on the Australian-based circuit, leaving Ambrose on the sidelines.

Ambrose, a two-time V8 Supercars champion, left NASCAR to return to his home country this season and help lead Team Penske’s international foray. But the Tasmanian stepped out of the car after the season opener and said he would focus solely on endurance racing the rest of the year.

“I fully support the team with the exciting announcements here today,” Ambrose said in a team release announcing Coulthard and Pye. “My number one priority since stepping out of the car full time was helping the team with that transition and in Fabian and Scotty, the team has a great future ahead for 2016 and beyond.”

In an interview with the Melbourne Herald Sun, Ambrose said he was mulling co-driving in endurance races next year.

“I do not intend to drive full time anymore,” Ambrose, 39, said. “I elected not to be a part of it. It’s absolutely my choice. There is no sadness. I’ve had a great run, a great career. I have my own personal reasons. I’ve got other priorities now.”

After 28 wins in V8 Supercars from 2002-05 and consecutive titles in 2003-04, Ambrose moved to the United States in 2006 and began a nine-season run in NASCAR. He started in the Camping World Truck and Xfinity series before moving full time into Sprint Cup in 2009.

All seven of his wins (five in Xfinity, two in Cup) were on road or street  courses – six at Watkins Glen International, one at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal).

In an interview earlier this season, Ambrose said he struggled to re-acclimate to the cars while dealing with the news media scrutiny of his comeback.

“I want to enjoy my racing and I certainly don’t want to be in the tabloids week in and week out,” he told V8Supercars.com. “That’s not what I come back for. It’s just a very difficult thing to come back to because just the opportunity to learn without being on the front page of every national newspaper is just impossible. So I didn’t want to be that guy everyone is looking at because he is running 25th and they don’t understand that you have no practice time in the car, you don’t have any tires to practice on even when you get there.

“I didn’t want to let the team down that way. So when I came down and saw the landscape and what I was facing, for me it became untenable to keep going the way I was.”