Rahal Goes With Experience Over Youth

On Tuesday of this week, we got news that Oriol Servia would be returning to the Indianapolis 500 with the team that gave him three previous runs in the Indianapolis 500 – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. As a fan, I could not be happier with that news.

Many fans have expressed their disappointment that the second car at Bobby Rahal’s team did not go to a younger driver with a promising future. While that sounds noble, if I were in Bobby Rahal’s shoes – I would have done the exact same thing.

I’ve said many times that if I were to suddenly win the lottery and had a couple of hundred million dollars at my disposal, and wanted to build an IndyCar team from scratch – one of the first phone calls I would make would be to Oriol Servia. I’m one that values experience over potential, more times than not. Oriol Servia has the experience that I would be seeking if I were a team owner.

I have always thought that Servia was one of the most underrated drivers in the IndyCar paddock, if not the most underrated.

A couple of years ago, I remember Graham Rahal was quoted as saying that Oriol Servia was the best teammate he ever had, I suppose referring to their short time together at Newman/Haas in 2009 and again for a partial season at Rahal Letterman Lanigan in 2014. Servia also drove as a teammate to Rahal in the 2015 Indianapolis 500 and in a one-off effort for Bobby Rahal in 2009.

It appears they will be entering a third partial season together, as the Spaniard has been signed for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 and “possibly more”. While I’m glad to see Servia confirmed for another “500” so early in the offseason – it is the “possibly more” in the press release that intrigued me. Now that Graham Rahal has come into his own as one of the elite drivers in the field, I think his talent can still be enhanced by Servia’s presence on the team.

Here is where I’ll throw in one of my dreaded football comparisons. Earlier this NFL season, the Tennessee Titans signed future Hall of Famer Andre Johnson to complement their young corps of wide-receivers. Johnson was clearly on the downside of his great career that sadly included no Super Bowl and very few playoff appearances in his days with the Houston Texans and last year with the Indianapolis Colts. Johnson was signed to a one-year deal, mostly for his leadership. While he caught the winning touchdown pass against Detroit in Week Two, he was a shadow of his former self and announced his retirement about halfway through the season.

But where he made his greatest mark with the Titans was in the locker room. He showed the young wide-receivers and other players how to approach their work. From Johnson, they learned work-ethic and the right mental approach. The buzzword for those traits in the corporate world is called “soft skills”.

To me, that is what Oriol Servia brings to a team – the intangibles that a young driver can learn from a veteran presence. You may be thinking that Graham Rahal has a more proven veteran on his team – his father, Bobby, who won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 and three CART championships. How many of us continued to tune out our parent’s advice when we were in our twenties, but would listen to someone else conveying the same message? I know I was guilty of that when I was in my twenties, and I suspect Graham Rahal might be also.

When given the chance, Oriol Servia has proven time and again that he is an excellent driver. He also has a knack of bringing the equipment home in one piece. The last time Servia had a fulltime ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series was 2011. He managed to finish fourth in the championship while driving for an underfunded Newman/Haas Racing that was merely a shadow of its former self.

His previous fulltime ride prior to that was with KVRacing Technologies in 2008, when they were one of the transition teams coming over from Champ Car during unification. Servia finished ninth in the points. That doesn’t sound very impressive until you realize that Servia finished higher in the points than any other driver on the transition teams. He and his team spent the entire year learning a completely different chassis powered by a naturally aspirated Honda engine, while racing on mostly new tracks. Servia adjusted better than any other driver for the transition teams.

Is Oriol Servia that fastest or flashiest driver in the paddock? No, but he may be one of the smartest. Not only does he exude an even-keeled temperament, he is also one of the few IndyCar drivers with a college degree – a degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic University of Catalonia. He generally displays his intelligence on the track. He knows a car’s limits and rarely puts himself into an impossible situation.

Off the track, Oriol Servia is one of the nicest drivers you’ll meet. Unlike some foreign-born drivers, Servia speaks very good English and most people love to listen to him roll his “R’s”. His personality comes off as very genuine and it seems he would do very well with sponsors.

I was afraid that at the age of forty-two, the window may have shut on the Spanish-born Serbia getting another shot. That would have been a shame. He is one of those drivers that rarely brings money to the table, but when given a chance – usually makes the most out of an opportunity. That kind of guy is easy to root for.

But fortunately, Bobby Rahal recognizes what a hidden gem he has in Oriol Servia. That’s why he’ll be driving Rahal in his third Indianapolis 500 in the last four years. I am hopeful that between now and when the green flag flies in St. Petersburg next March, that Rahal will have put together the funding necessary for a fulltime ride for Servia.

So for those of you bemoaning the possibility of Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves or Matt Brabham sitting on the sidelines, while someone almost twice their age has been confirmed for the “500” – their time will hopefully come. They’ve still got time on their side.

Personally, I am rooting for another graybeard in the age group of Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves. Oriol Servia never got the opportunities that those two did, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t just as talented. I’ll take experience over potential any day.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “Rahal Goes With Experience Over Youth”

  1. I am unsure how I feel about this, I like Servia and would like to see him sneak a win out this year but I also tire of seeing him in these no-win situations. I do want to remind everyone of a story just for the fun of it, remember when he was fired over the radio in Surfers after wrecking Paul Tracy out? That was a very comedic moment in the CART series.

    Sage Karam has a ride with Lexus I believe, he ain’t coming back full-time everyone, not happening. Gabby and Brabham, eh, Spencer Pigot, eh. I just don’t get that excited about them. There will always be a pile of Wade Cunninghams out there like those guys above. Did they earn a full ride? Maybe, but they didn’t do much with it and the stars didn’t line up. They still got to do a lot more than anyone reading this probably did (though I do hope there are some former 500 starters reading this).

    Ultimately I would rather see Servia out there vs. Tagliani or Scheckter.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    As a fan of the series, I would prefer to see a younger driver get their shot in a second Rahal car. It is important for the series’ next generation to get a chance to establish themselves, especially with how little testing younger drivers get now compared to those of Servia’s generation, and it seems there are fewer opportunities than there once were.

    As a fan of Graham and the RLL team, I am rather excited to see Servia join the team and hope he gets more than the three races currently scheduled. RLL did what was best for the team, what would most likely help them string up successful finishes and race wins, and I can not blame them or any other team for doing that.

    While I’m not sure he was ever championship-winning material, Servia undoubtedly deserved better rides than he has gotten over the years. It would have been interesting to see how successful he would have been over his career if he was given the opportunities that Bruno Junquiera received. I thought he performed comparably to, if not better than, Bruno when he took over his ride in 2005.

    • Much agreement here. If the door never opens at the top then the young guns will stop trying to get there and well have something like an Indy Lights race with only a 6-8 car field.

      Of course that would never happen…………..

  3. I fully admit I’m nitpicking with this comment, but is Rahal an ‘elite’ IndyCar driver? He has undoubtedly show major improvement in the last two years, and RLL’s performance relative to other Honda teams has been impressive, but I’m skeptical that he’s ‘elite.’

    To me, the best right now are Power, Pagenaud, Dixon. On the second level, there’s Hunter-Reay and Newgarden, although others could legitimately argue RHR belongs in the top group. I would put Rahal in the third tier of drivers with Castroneves and Kanaan.

    If you accept that tier system, there are 5 drivers better than Rahal. Assuming a 22 car field, that’s over 20% of current drivers better than Rahal. Can people outside the top 20% of a field be considered ‘elite?’

    • You make a fair point. I even hesitated when I typed the word “elite”. My thinking was that he won multiple races in 2015 and another race in 2016 – as well as contending in many more. To do so on a one-car team is quite an accomplishment. Elite? Maybe. Or maybe not quite yet. It sounded goood, didn’t it? – GP

  4. I think the other thing that Orrrrrrrrrriole Serrrrrrrvia (sorry, can’t help it!) brings to Rahal is his ability to help set the cars up. My guess is they will at least pay him to help with the pre-season testing and engineering, something the team had a lot of issues with last season. If memory serves, they were very hit or miss on setups, with more misses than hits, so with his experience, that should be a lot of help there. As I understand it, it is one place Graham needs a lot of help…

  5. I am extremely pleased that Oriol was named as RLL second driver, but wished it wasn’t so limited a ride. With his mechanical engineering degree and background I think he will provide the team with excellent input on set up. I have often wondered these past few years what he would have accomplished in a solid ride.

    I agree with George and others that Oriol is one of the nicest guys in the paddock. Always a smile and he takes time to really talk to fans. He isn’t camera shy either. (smile)

  6. I like this decision for several reasons, including that he raced in the 500 about four years ago with the logo of a company with which we are both associated on his cockpit. Jack Hawksworth ran with that same logo on his car in his rookie season. Maybe we will see it again in 2017.

  7. This my be off the topic a bit but I happened upon an interview that Bobby Rahat had with Bobby Unser in 2015.
    It was a belly laugh for sure and then Miller joined the conversation.
    Quite interesting how some of these great drivers got started in Indy Car back in the day.

    One last point 3 time winner Lone Star J. R. back in the day was known as crash J.R.
    Moral of this bit is Sage shouldn’t be written off so fast.Given some work under Scott and he could become a real player in Indy Car.

  8. It has been said that old age and treachery will beat youth and speed. While that worked for Reggie White in his later years, I am not sure that will work for Oriol. I would love to see a Oreo cookie livery on his car if Oreo was not moving to Mexico.

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