One of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s standout races in 2013 was at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and potentially, 2014 could be better yet for the Bobby Rahal-led squad in round two of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Mike Conway was drafted in as a third driver alongside Graham Rahal and James Jakes, and promptly made the Firestone Fast Six. Then Rahal charged through to second place in the race behind 2012 RLL driver Takuma Sato, for what was his only podium finish and best result of the season.
In 2014, with Rahal already gelling with new engineer Bill Pappas and with speed shown both in practice and the race start in St. Petersburg, the No. 15 National Guard Honda entry could be a dark horse contender for victory this weekend.
“It was a great weekend for us,” said Rahal of the 2013 event. “We started eleventh, had a bunch of good restarts and got ourselves up into a position to challenge for the win. It went extremely smoothly with all three cars (Rahal, Jakes, Conway) and our competitiveness was the highest it was at any track. Unfortunately we had to save fuel towards the end and that hurt us a little bit. Long Beach has always been a challenging place for me for various reasons but last year was definitely a good result. This gives me a lot of confidence coming back this year with a team that I feel is now stronger than before and a car that should be even better.”
Adding the boost, as RLL again brings in another car for Long Beach, is the second car driven by veteran Oriol Servia, who begins his second tour of duty with the team after running in the 2009 Indianapolis 500.
Servia will make his 13th IndyCar start at Long Beach; Rahal his eighth. Like Graham, Servia has a best finish of second on the streets of Long Beach, in 2007 as a fill-in for the injured Paul Tracy. Servia tested at the series’ open test at Barber Motorsports Park last month, and works with engineer Eddie Jones.
“There are very few of my many Long Beach appearances that don’t hold a special place in my memory,” said Servia who is one of 14 drivers entered in Sunday’s race that have led laps here. “Somehow this place has always produced a memorable race for me. The 2007 race, where I wasn’t supposed to compete and got a call just before qualifying when (Paul) Tracy got hurt is one of the more memorable. I qualified 14th and almost won the race by finishing second. I have a lot of memories of the Long Beach race and a lot of friends coming to support me and have fun. Like all street races, the walls can come to quick at you if you get too greedy!”
The Long Beach weekend is always a busy one for Bobby Rahal; the Road Racing Driver’s Club dinner held Thursday night has quickly become a Long Beach staple and a highlight of the weekend, and the BMW Team RLL team is in action in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race on Saturday with two GT Le Mans class entered BMW Z4 GTEs for the 100-minute race.
Rahal’s news since the St. Petersburg opener was a joke press release sent out on April Fool’s Day, saying that Bobby Rahal would come out of retirement to race in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Meanwhile team co-owner David Letterman has gone the opposite route – he announced his retirement from The Late Show last week.
You can see the IndyCar race Sunday on NBCSN at 4 p.m. ET, also available via NBC Sports Live Extra.