INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens

Three-car program in 2020 can put Rahal Letterman Lanigan back in the INDYCAR fast lane

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PORTLAND, Oregon – NTT IndyCar Series team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports.com that he has to have plans for a three-car team finalized by the season’s final race at Laguna Seca on September 22 in order to hire the “right people” to work on an additional car.

Rahal’s intent is to increase Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to a three-car effort beginning in 2020. For the past two seasons, it’s been a two-car operation featuring drivers Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal, the team owner’s son.

“I would say by mid-September we will know,” Rahal told NBC Sports.com. “We’re not there, yet. To me, the most important thing is the money. Without the money, you can’t hire who you want.

“It’s not just the driver, it’s the mechanics and everybody. We have to hire the right people. The people part is the most difficult part.

“I’m hoping we can do that.”

Watch Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland on NBC Sports.

The last time Rahal’s team was a full three-car effort for an entire season was in 2006. That is when Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick and Jeff Simmons participated in all but the opening race of that season.

The team parked its cars prior to the season-opening race that year after Rahal driver Paul Dana was killed in the Sunday morning warmup session at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rice and Patrick did not start out of respect to their fallen teammate. Simmons would take over Dana’s ride on the team.

Rahal has been getting phone calls from numerous drivers and mechanics interested in the potential expansion to three cars. Fellow team owner Mike Shank, who fields a 10-car program for driver Jack Harvey. That team hopes to partner with another full-time Honda team, is also under consideration with Rahal.

“It’s still early for a lot of people,” Rahal said. “We have a good relationship with Mike Shank. Hopefully, we can put something together. We could do a lot of great things. We’ll have to wait and see.”

There is also the possibility that current Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe may become available with one year left on his contract. That team is merging with McLaren next season to become Arrow McLaren Racing SP and will be a Chevrolet team in 2020.

Hinchcliffe has deep connections with Honda and there are discussions about freeing him up for 2020.

“I like James,” Rahal said. “I think he is a pretty damn, good driver. But nobody has told me anything. As far as I know, he is under contract to McLaren for next year.

“Knowing how embedded James is with Honda, that has to be uncomfortable with a lot of people at McLaren.”

As one of the three ownership partners at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Rahal has been able to slowly grow the operation while finding additional funding to help it expand.

“In the end, we have to be the best two-car team before we worry about being a three-car team,” Rahal emphasized.

Rahal also called Takuma Sato’s victory in last Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway one of the most satisfying wins of his career. That’s because it came after a week where the driver from Japan was heavily criticized and blamed for his role in a crash at the start of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

“Last weekend, like any win, was satisfying,” Rahal told NBC Sports.com. “Having said that, it was extra satisfying because of the public hanging of Takuma Sato.”

Rahal met with Sato in Colorado a few days before heading to St. Louis. The team issued a statement in support of their driver.

“I told him, ‘Don’t worry about what everybody is saying; go out and prove them wrong,’” Rahal said. “And, he did.”

Rahal was with team co-owner Michael Lanigan, who wasn’t feeling well at the time and was at a private airport near World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway waiting to fly home early. They saw Sato’s victory on television on NBCSN.

“It was a huge weekend for us,” Rahal said. “It was bigger for Takuma than anybody. You couldn’t have written a script any better than that one.

“It was a lynching. He was convicted in the court of public opinion without all of the facts. I just thought that was wrong. I thought we had to stand up for him because he didn’t do anything wrong.”

The victory was classic Sato as the strategy worked and once he was in front, Sato kept the car there.

“He did a great job keeping it up front because the tires were bad, vibrating badly, and he kept it on the track,” Sato said. “For a guy who supposedly crashes all the time, he didn’t crash.”

Rahal believes in most crashes “It takes two to Tango.

“I have no problem with Takuma Sato because it’s easier to detune a guy, than tune him up,” Rahal said.

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.