IndyCar

IndyCar: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 2018 Season Review

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Editor’s note: MotorSportsTalk continues to review how each organization in the IndyCar Series performed in 2018 and also takes a look ahead to 2019.

Thus far we have featured Juncos RacingMeyer Shank RacingCarlin Racing, Harding Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, Dale Coyne Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing.

Today we feature Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. 


Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 2018 IndyCar Review

It was a rough season for RLL, one that definitely could have been better. Graham Rahal, son of team majority owner Bobby Rahal, showed some strong moments at times, but issues here and there – either driver mistakes or car/race problemss – hindered him at times.

RLL also welcomed the return of 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who previously raced for the organization in 2012. Sato would go on to earn RLL’s lone win of the season, in the penultimate event of 2018 at Portland, and finished the season in 12th place.

GRAHAM RAHAL

Team name: No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Years in IndyCar: 11

Career wins and podium finishes: 6 and 23

Best career finish: 4th in 2015

2018 final standing: 8th

2018 final stats: 0 wins, 1 podiums, 0 poles.

2018 best race finish: 2nd (St. Petersburg)

SEASON WRAPUP: The younger Rahal was on-target to potentially finish the season with a top-5 showing. But three finishes of 21st or worse in three of the last six races dropped him to 8th, the same position he held for those last six races of the season. It was his worst season finish since he was 19th in 2014.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Rahal has been on a downward slide for the last four seasons, finishing 4th in 2015, 5th in 2016, 6th in 2017 and 8th this past season. Don’t be surprised if there are some offseason personnel changes on the team. It has great promise, but needs some new blood.

QUOTE (after season finale at Sonoma): “What happened in the race (finished 23rd due to battery issues) was our year in a nutshell. … We have had a hard year, but I don’t think I have ever been as proud to work with a group of guys as I am this year. These guys never quit. They focused on doing the best they could, at all times, and busted their butts. I know this is a great sign of things to come.”

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TAKUMA SATO

Team name: No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda

Years in IndyCar: 9

Career wins and podium finishes: 3 and 8

Best career season finish: 8th in 2017

2018 final standing: 12th

2018 final stats: 1 wins, 2 podiums, 0 poles

2018 best race finish: 1st (Portland)

SEASON WRAPUP: Sato and RLL had high expectations coming into 2018, but the end result was lacking in several areas. Sure, he had the team’s lone win of the season at Portland, but he also had four DNFs (three being crashes, including in the Indy 500, of which he was the defending winner). Sato had hoped to earn at least a top-10 finish for the season, but 3 DNFs in the last six races relegated him to a disappointing 12th place finish overall.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: As difficult as it may be for his fans to believe, the reality is that Sato will be 42 in the 2019 season (birthday is January 28). Prior to his Portland win, there was uncertainty whether he would return to RLL. But now that he’s signed for 2019, the question is how productive can he still be. There’s reason for optimism: he’s coming off his two best IndyCar seasons (8th in 2017 and 12th in 2018). But, in general terms, his performance and that of his team needs to improve significantly.

QUOTE (following the season finale at Sonoma): “It’s a pity to finish the season like this especially for the boys who worked so hard the entire season. Of course, we had a good highlight two weeks ago (Portland win), but we wanted to carry good momentum into 2019. Having said that, it was a good day for myself and the team as we announced we were together again next year. The last race in Sonoma is disappointing but there is a great feeling for next year.  We will work hard on development over the winter and come back strong for 2019. Thank you very much to the entire team. I enjoyed the year.”

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Rossi remains “The Story” in INDYCAR in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly-timed move to race side-by-side with Herta going into Turn 1. By Turn 2 of the first lap of the race, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing missing from deeming Rossi’s race complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pits stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by one-full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished third three of the four times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the frontstraight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle, but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash just as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution. Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816-of-a-second behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he was never challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties like with Honda. Both him and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBC Sports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there, I think we’re getting there,” Andretti said. “We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that. After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500? In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races 10 years from now and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, that is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist. Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”