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.

NTT re-signs as IndyCar title sponsor in multiyear deal starting with the 2024 season

James Black/Penske Entertainment
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The IndyCar Series has re-signed NTT as its title sponsor in a multiyear agreement starting in 2024.

NTT, a global information technology and communications company based in Japan, became the series’ title sponsor before the 2019 season after starting as a sponsor of the No. 10 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.

NTT Data (a subsidiary of parent company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.) will remain the official technology partner of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Brickyard weekend.

With the extension, an IndyCar spokesman said NTT would become the second-longest title sponsor in series history. The longest title sponsor was PPG from 1980-97 (under the CART sanction of the Champ Car Series).

NTT replaced Verizon, which was IndyCar’s title sponsor from 2014-18 after IZOD from 2010-13.

“NTT is an excellent partner across our enterprise with strong expertise and a deep commitment to our sport,” Penske Corp. chairman and IndyCar owner Roger Penske said in a release. “From Smart Venue technology at the Racing Capital of the World to the reimagined Series mobile application, NTT is transforming the fan experience in new and innovative ways. We look forward to a bright future together.”

NTT has used artificial intelligence-enabled optical detection technology at IMS to provide information to the track’s operations and security teams, helping improve fan traffic flow and safety, the track said.

“IndyCar is a great partner for NTT Data because of our shared commitment to driving innovation, increasing sustainability and delivering amazing experiences,” NTT Data CEO Kaz Nishihata said in a release. “We also appreciate how IndyCar is so diverse, with drivers from 15 different countries, and races that range from short ovals and superspeedways to road and street courses. It’s both an incredible sport and a wonderful example for our world.”

NTT also has been instrumental in helping redesign the IndyCar app and providing more race and driver data for use in NBC Sports’ broadcasts by utilizing 140 data points from every car in the field.

“NTT is fully invested in the development and growth of our sport and has already established a terrific track record in our industry with problem-solving capabilities and access to top talent and tools,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said.

Said NTT Data Services CEO Bob Pryor: “We’re thrilled to continue our collaborations that enhance and expand the fan experience for motorsports and serve as proof points for data analytics, AI, and other innovative digital technologies. For more than a century, this racing series has pioneered innovations making driving safer for everyone, and by continuing this relationship, we will accelerate the pace of innovations and new technologies, particularly related to sustainability that ultimately can benefit organizations, communities and individuals around the world.”

Starting as a Japanese telephone company, NTT grew into a $100 billion-plus tech services giant with U.S. operations based in Plano, Texas.