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Rahal: Lack of second car “hurting us” in 2016

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One of the more notable stories in the 2016 season has been the heavy amount of in-season testing, and when you’re a team with greater resources and four cars, you have a wealth more data points.

After contending for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship down to the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale, Graham Rahal’s likely best hope for 2016 is finishing third in points – he sits in ninth, 49 behind third-placed Helio Castroneves, with four races to go.

But at 160 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud, there’s no shot at the driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda winning the title.

Rahal made the point during his media availability Friday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course that the relative lack of data by comparison on a single-car team versus the mights of the three four-car teams is hurting RLL this year versus last year.

“I’d like to add a car because I can tell you this year I think it’s hurting us,” Rahal explained. “This year I think we’re struggling. We’ve been testing a lot. Everybody has been testing a lot. When we’re testing and we have one car, versus Penske has four cars worth of data, it’s hurting us, it’s hurting us. We’d love to get the partners on this team to go and add a second car, for sure.”

Given the amount of cost it takes to run a second car (several million), not having that car has shown up more with the more intense amount of in-season testing.

RLL has run a second car part-time since 2014, but hasn’t run a second car full-time since 2013 (James Jakes).

“I just feel like we’re having to work extremely hard to keep up this year with the others. Like I said, a lot of that is due to the in-season testing and the development that can go on,” Rahal explained.

“Where we go, it’s just me. So it’s been hard, quite frankly, to try to get through the checklist of all the items that we want to go through, try different shock stuff and everything else.

“Pretty much what you see this weekend is the exact same setup that we ran last. You would think in a year you would find something that would evolve.

“Again, we’re lean and mean. Our guys are doing a hell of a job. I never, ever believed any different. I really do think I’ve got the best guys out here. We’re all confident, there’s no doubt about that. If you look at our year, quite frankly, I think we’ve been more competitive most places. But every little thing that could go wrong, has.

“Detroit race, we started fourth, had a brake line come loose on the parade lap. A failure at Texas, so we went into qualifying completely blind. We’ve had a lot of these weird things that are seemingly happening that didn’t last year.

“So we just got to keep our heads down and keep focusing, and hopefully it will reward us this weekend. These guys have worked hard. The next two weeks are miserable for them with all the testing. It’s going to be bad. Hopefully we’re going to have a good one.”

The earlier note on partners is an important one – Rahal and I have talked before about the importance of finding partners, and how hard he and the RLL Racing commercial team have worked to do so.

It’s paid off in many regards because given the number of team partners – Steak ‘n Shake, Hyatt, PennGrade Motor Oil, United Rentals, Drifire, so on and so forth – and then personal partners like Monster Energy and Qalo have come on board in the last two years.

“The sponsors are out there. The partners are out there,” Rahal said.

“There’s two ways to look at this. Number one is how you find them and where you’re looking. Number two, I’m very fortunate that in my race team with my three owners, neither one of them are looking to make a dime. What do you price yourself at? Are the owners trying to make a living off this, which they all should.

“My point is you have to price yourself in the ballpark and put the partners together to complete the package. We’ve been able to do that and we’re going to continue to move on and hopefully improve.”

Rahal finished fourth this weekend at Mid-Ohio while wearing a firesuit and helmet adorned in the colors of The Ohio State University, and also checked in with Katie Hargitt for a quick video on life outside the cockpit. Meanwhile team co-owner David Letterman was on site and checked in with Robin Miller during pre-race.

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

24 Hours of Le Mans

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.