Rahal at speed. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar 2017 team preview: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

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MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has ascended to the top of the Honda field the last two years and as a one-car effort, will have a combined eight cars from Ganassi and Andretti, plus another four sleepers from Schmidt Peterson and Coyne, to maintain that status in 2017.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

15-Graham Rahal (Eddie Jones, Rico Nault)
16-Oriol Servia (Tom German, Jeff Schaffner)*

*Selected races only

Manufacturer/aero kit: Honda

Sponsors: Steak ‘n Shake, United Rentals, Manitowoc, Hyatt (No. 15)

What went right in 2016: Qualifying drastically improved for the team and Rahal scored a fine victory in the conclusion of Texas thanks to a series of courageous moves. The team finished a justifiable fifth points despite a roller coaster of a year. 

What went wrong in 2016: The luck and consistency that was largely present throughout 2015 went missing last year. Rarely did the team string together great back-to-back weekends and that left them perpetually playing catch-up in the points.

What’s changed for 2017: Not much other than the addition of veteran engineer Tom German, who joins an already stacked group around Rahal. The return of Oriol Servia for Indianapolis and Detroit will also help at both those venues; the Catalan remains one of IndyCar’s best plug-and-play solutions.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Significant improvement at Indianapolis, as well as a sustained title charge. With Ganassi and Andretti fielding a combined eight Hondas, staying “best in class” will be a harder accomplishment to achieve this go-around, but don’t think RLL will be any less motivated to pull it off.

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: I want to see RLL continue in the top five in points but the law of averages and the strength in numbers elsewhere is too large to ignore. Rahal should win at least once for a third consecutive season but in truth he was lucky to finish fifth in points last season; a seventh or eighth place finish seems more likely given this is a one-car, Honda program with four Penskes, four Ganassis and four Andrettis to contend with. End higher than that, which is possible with a good month of May, and it could be considered Rahal’s best year yet.

Kyle Lavigne: A one-car team with a Honda aero kit sounds a like a recipe for disappointment, and yet Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing have been shining stars for the last two years, even making a championship run in 2015. Bad luck and a bad run at the Indianapolis 500 hampered their 2016 campaign, but the tools are still there for another strong year. They certainly have a chance to win races, especially on the road/street circuits, and the impression is that they’ve made gains on their super speedway program. If that’s the case, a season similar to 2015 could in the cards.

Luke Smith: RLL remains the little engine that could in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Graham Rahal has proven himself to be one of the championship’s most impressive talents, and while 2016 lacked the loftiness of the year prior, it was still a big success in all areas. The addition of Oriol Servia for select races will boost RLL’s chances of helping Rahal, who I’ll peg for a couple of race wins this year. Definitely capable of an upset or two through 2017.

Daniel Ricciardo would relish being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo says he would relish the challenge of having Lewis Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and expressed interest in joining teams like Mercedes or Ferrari to help him challenge for the championship.

The Australian says he would “love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there.”

He adds: “I don’t want to say it’s just Lewis I’m looking for but that would be a good challenge.”

Ricciardo says he won’t accept a faster car if it means playing second fiddle to an established star.

He says “there’s always been really good clarity and fairness (at Red Bull) … and I would expect that environment everywhere.”