Silly Season: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Earlier this week, I decided I would take on a new project for this site – a series of posts. I think if you’re a blogger, it’s a post. If you’re a real journalist, it’s an article – so we’ll call these posts. I wanted to devote this series to the silly season. These aren’t necessarily predictions of what I think will happen, rather they are my opinion on what I think should happen. As most of you know, those two aren’t always the same. I figured I had better get started on it before my thunder gets stolen by seats getting filled before I post. Lo and behold, that has happened on the very first one.

I had already put the finishing touches on this post, when I was listening to Trackside last night. Just as Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee were wrapping up, Kevin announced some news that had just broken regarding this very post. I decided to go ahead and run with it for a couple of reasons. First of all, I had spent a lot of time writing it and I had no time to come up with another great idea and type it out. Secondly, what I had written about is exactly what came to pass. If you didn’t hear Trackside, it won’t make any difference. Just know that when you get to the end, what I had hoped for actually happened.

A few weeks ago, I wrote how Josef Newgarden was the prize of this year’s silly season. While I believe that is still the case, it’s now being reported that CFH Racing is going to get to keep that prize – at least for another year. So while the Nashville native may not be on the free-agent market any longer, there are still some silly season possibilities that are intriguing to look at.

For the next few days, I’m going to examine the driver situation at a few teams that may or may not have openings for 2016. For what it’s worth; I’ll offer up my not-so-sought-after opinion on where I think drivers would and would not be a good fit at what few seats may be available next season. Today, we’ll take a look at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Many seem to think that RLLR will expand to a two-car team for 2016. Personally, I have mixed emotions about that. There are many benefits to having a teammate. Probably the most significant is being able to share data and get feedback from another driver’s perspective. Some drivers are better at that than others. There is also the fact that a driver can help out a teammate in a variety of subtle ways on the track. All in all, it is considered the preferred scenario for a team to have at least two drivers.

I’m not sure that’s the case at Rahal Letterman Lanigan. For once, there seemed to be chemistry among this group. Since Bobby Rahal’s team returned to the series full-time in 2012, the results have been fairly dismal. Takuma Sato struggled to a fourteenth place finish in the championship, despite coming within three turns of winning the Indianapolis 500.

In 2013, Graham Rahal joined his father’s team and the results were worse. With teammate James Jakes in 2013, Rahal posted an eighteenth place finish in points. With part-time teammates Oriol Servia and Luca Filippi in 2014, Rahal finished an embarrassing nineteenth in points – behind Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth, who both missed starts due to injury.

After losing the National Guard sponsorship following the 2014 season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan scaled back to a one-car effort featuring Graham Rahal as the driver. Heading into the season finale, Rahal was second in points before finally settling for fourth in the 2015 standings.

It’s entirely possible that Rahal may not simply be a good teammate. That’s not necessarily a knock on him. Some drivers thrive more when they are the only focus for the team. Twenty years ago, a teammate was not that critical for a team’s success, but today – it’s vital. Would a teammate at Rahal Letterman Lanigan next season, disrupt the chemistry that they finally have at RLLR? It’s quite possible. Do the benefits of having a teammate override the disruption of chemistry? On some teams, that would probably be a yes, but at Rahal’s team – I’m not sure.

Notice I referred to it as Rahal’s team. That doesn’t necessarily mean Bobby Rahal’s team. Without a doubt, this is also Graham Rahal’s team. Anyone coming in is obviously going to be playing second-fiddle, no matter how good they are. It would take a special personality to check their ego at the door every day, while everything was geared towards Graham.

Again, I don’t disparage Graham Rahal or the team for that approach. It worked in 2015. Anyone coming in and suggesting changes would be looked at with a very skeptical eye.

If anyone could pull that off, it would be Graham’s sometime teammate Oriol Servia – who has experience dealing with both Rahal’s and apparently has no problem with it. But Father Time is catching up with Servia. The likeable Spaniard is now forty-one. It’s time for him to land a better ride than the second car at Rahal. Even if Graham duplicates the success he had this season, the second car stands a chance to be under-funded and would be at a noticeable disadvantage to Rahal’s car.

Servia has strongly hinted he’d like to have one more shot at a full-time IndyCar ride before he hangs up his helmet. I have a strong idea where Servia would be a good fit for 2016 and RLLR is not it. I’ll write about where I think he should end up later in this series.

So, I’ll say something about Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing that I would probably never say about another team – they should stay the course for at least another year and remain a one-car team. That may be the best fit for Graham Rahal.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Silly Season: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing”

  1. I love this! NASCAR has Jayski but Indycar struggles when it comes to Silly Season rumors, you have to dig a bit.

    I am happy that Graham really had a great year. That said, I am not sold on them being a powerhouse team. They had a good 2004 season also and then were nowhere for many years. I am just not convinced that this is the next big team. I don’t think adding another car would help them at all. I also hope Josef doesn’t move over there because I am just not convinced they can maintain this run that had in 2015.

  2. The success of RLLR this year was one of the biggest surprises of the season for 2015. How do they keep that going? It seems like bringing another teammate in would disrupt the apple cart. Like everything, money runs the show so since most teams are strung to the maximum on budgets, RLLR will stay a one car team. That is interesting about what you said about Graham being the center of attention though. He seems to thrive on that. That may one of the keys to their success for 2016.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    By: David Malsher, US Editor

    Yesterday at 11:58pm

    Bobby Rahal says he sees no reason to expand to two full-time entries following son Graham’s performances this past season
    Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will remain a one-car team next season, according to team co-owner Bobby Rahal, although a second car will be added for the Indianapolis 500.

    “Would we have been stronger with two cars? I think that’s open to question. I think a two-car team, if the drivers want different things from their cars in terms of handling, is more like running two one-car teams. So I’m not interested in running a second car just for the sake of it. We’ve seen in the recent past that can cause more problems than it solves.”

    Expanding for the Indy 500
    Oriol Servia, who first ran for RLLR in the Indianapolis 500 in 2009 and later that year partnered Graham Rahal at Newman/Haas Racing, remains a firm favorite with Rahal father and son and Bobby says the Catalan veteran brought a lot to the program at the Brickyard last May.

    “At Indy, I think there are great benefits to running two cars,” said the 1986 “500” winner, “because one driver can be running qualifying simulations as the other one is trying race setups. There’s plenty of time to do that kind of thing, and I think Oriol being on our team this year for Indy was a big help: he’s very strong on ovals – strong everywhere, actually – technically smart, good with feedback, gets on well with Graham, and so on.

    “If a top quality driver like that became available and we had $5million to assemble a second team for a full season, then I’d be interested.

    “But given the hurdles we overcame this year, receiving the aero kits at the last minute and having to learn them fast with only one set of data, I’d say there’s no reason we can’t be even stronger next season continuing with just one car, and two at Indy.” – Bobby Rahal.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    It seems to me that there really is no reason for any one-car team not look to add a second car IF they can do it right. Right sponsor, right driver, right engineer and crew, right amount of time to prepare. The benefits of additional cars almost always outweigh the costs when the cars are all sufficiently set up to be successful.

    Can RLL add a second car the right way next season? It doesn’t appear that they can at this point, but I highly doubt they would refuse the opportunity to field a fully sponsored car for a winning-caliber driver just to placate Graham (who has raced plenty well with teammates in his non-RLL turns).

  5. they should stay a one car team. he has to have all the eyes on him to prosper. maybe in 2018 they could go to two cars.

  6. I, too, see no reason for RLLR to run a second team. I think that they know what they are doing, don’t need an extra team and, perhaps, we may, in the future, see some other “one car” teams develop. In a perfect world we would see less expensive equipment which would……. I wish it were May!

  7. I find it hard to believe that Rahal Letterman can continue to be one of the top 5 cars in the field without a second car. Maybe I’m wrong, but the history of modern racing suggests a 1 vehicle program may have some good moments, but will struggle to maintain consistent competitiveness year after year. Furniture Row in NASCAR was very good in 2013, very bad in 2014, and has been good this year, and I fear as a single car team Rahal will be in the same boat. Expanding just to expand would be risky too, so if they can’t afford to expand their best bet is to try and get some sort of alliance between themselves and another Honda team, or get direct Honda support.

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