IndyCar: Potential big weekend on tap for RLL’s pair of Rahal, Servia

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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.

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and Danish youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”