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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.