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.

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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