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100th Indianapolis 500 team preview: RLL Racing

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MotorSportsTalk looks through the Verizon IndyCar Series grid ahead of the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Next up is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

By comparison to other higher-financed teams, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continues with a smaller group and has carried over its 2015 success into the opening rounds of 2016. The team that won Indy in 2004 with Buddy Rice and whose co-owner, Bobby Rahal, celebrates 30 years since his 1986 race win, is arguably Honda’s strongest bullet heading into May.

ENTRIES

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan with Theodore Racing Honda
Spencer Pigot-R, No. 16 RLL/Mi-Jack/Manitowoc Honda

2016 SEASON SO FAR

Rahal would argue his strongest drives came in St. Petersburg and Long Beach, while his best results occurred at Phoenix and Barber. He’s riding the wave of momentum from last year and arguably more focused than ever on bucking the trend that Honda can’t contend this year the ‘500. Pigot debuted at St. Petersburg in the team’s second car. 

INDY OUTLOOK

Whereas Rahal’s had Oriol Servia as his second teammate the last two years, now in Pigot, he’s got a ‘500 rookie to bounce ideas off of. Still, Rahal speaks highly of the Floridian’s feedback and maturity beyond his years.

The team’s penchant for using strategy at Indy to its advantage is well known and Rahal was one of only two Hondas last year (Marco Andretti) who made inroads on the Chevy barrage. He’ll seek to do likewise this year and Pigot is a strong contender for race rookie-of-the-year honors, either on pace or with a strategic gamble. 

RECENT RESULTS

  • 2015: 5. 15-Rahal (17), 29. 32-Servia (13)
  • 2014: 11. 16-Servia (18), 33. 15-Rahal (20)
  • 2013: 20. 16-Jakes (20), 25. 15-Rahal (26), NQ. 17-Jourdain
  • 2012: 17. 15-Sato (19), 19. 30-Jourdain (22)

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?