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.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.