National Guard officially settled for Rahal’s IndyCar team

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Not a huge surprise, but after months of speculation and waiting since RACER’s Robin Miller originally reported this back in October, the National Guard will sponsor Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the 2014 IndyCar Series season.

RLL confirmed the news Thursday, and the Guard will in fact be the primary sponsor for Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda. The AP reported Thursday that RLL had submitted the winning proposal in the fall, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office denied Panther’s appeal last month.

“This is an historic day for all of us at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” Bobby Rahal, RLL co-owner, said in the team’s official release. “I can’t over­state how proud and how priv­i­leged we feel to repre­sent the men and women of the Army National Guard. This is a huge respon­si­bility that each of us feels and we are looking forward to working with the National Guard to achieve their goals.

“And I can’t imagine a better ambas­sador for those men and women than Graham, as an Amer­ican, driving the National Guard Dallara-Honda IndyCar.”

Graham Rahal was pleased as well with the news.

“I am really over the moon about driving the National Guard car,” he said. “Being an Amer­ican and an extremely patri­otic person, I am very proud of the men and women who fight for us and keep this great country safe and free. To have the oppor­tu­nity to repre­sent the National Guard and all that they do both here and abroad means more than anybody could ever know.”

An American driver did represent the Guard from 2011 through the 2013 Indianapolis 500 in the form of JR Hildebrand, before Panther terminated his contract after that race.

The question now shifts to the other brands and sponsors affiliated with RLL Racing. In 2013, Rahal’s No. 15 carried the Midas and Big O Tire brands, along with blu eCigs for select races. The team has confirmed Deltran Battery Tender as a major associate, and now the Guard, but no other partners as yet.

Whatever commercial affiliations the team is able to carry over from 2013 will likely play a key role in who will drive the team’s second Honda, the No. 16.

James Jakes is unlikely to return and there are a handful of names being tossed around with respect to the seat. Who gets it seems to depend on who you’re talking to – ultimately, only Bobby Rahal and co-owners Mike Lanigan and David Letterman know for sure.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.