(This story originally appeared as exclusive content on the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app.)
After restoring Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to a top Verizon IndyCar Series contender with Graham Rahal as the driver, the team is doubling down in 2018 as it expands to a two-car operation. Indianapolis 500 winning driver Takuma Sato returns to RLL after driving for the team co-owned by Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan in 2012.
It's been a busier than normal offseason at the Rahal Letterman Lanigan shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. Team manager Rico Nault is hiring additional crewmembers for the expanding team, not to mention preparing more Hondas to be outfitted with the new universal aero kit for the 2018 season.
“We've run two cars a number of times (at the Indianapolis 500 and select other events) over the last few years, so we have most of the equipment to do that,” Nault told the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app. “When we ran the second car before, we had some of our BMW guys from the IMSA (sports car) team and got a couple of ‘weekend warriors.' Now, we are staffing up for a full-time effort and looking for good people to staff it.
“We found a good chief mechanic in Brad Wright, who comes over from Ed Carpenter Racing. We have a few other mechanics coming along. We had an engineering staff coming along. All we needed was one assistant and that is all done.”
Nault was also able to add three crewmembers from those let go when Chip Ganassi Racing announced it was condensing from four entries to two in the 2018 season. Other crewmembers have come from Ed Carpenter Racing and RLL’s own global rallycross effort.
“It's all coming along quite smoothly,” Nault continued. “We pulled the trigger early enough to find good people and it's working out really well. The situation at Chip Ganassi Racing worked out well for me because, when you let go of that many people, you have to get rid of a few good ones, and we were able to capitalize on a few of them.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing attempted to become a two-car effort in 2013 but couldn't put the proper personnel in place. In 2015, Nault began bolstering the engineering staff to handle two drivers, giving Graham Rahal a tremendous boost with his one-car effort. The addition of Tom German as a full-time engineer last year was a key step in allowing the team to take on a second driver.
The team has five Dallara IR-12 chassis and rotated three last year. Nault said Sato, who returns after winning the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil for Andretti Autosport in May, should fold nicely back in at RLL. Sato was battling Dario Franchitti for the Indy 500 win in an RLL car in 2012 when he spun and crashed on the final lap.
“We ran Takuma before and it went fairly well,” Nault said. “We got along well with Takuma over the years and I was quite pleased when he won the Indy 500 last year. We came close to winning it together in 2012 and now I want to see it happen for us in 2018, whether it's Takuma or Graham winning the Indy 500.
“Either one works for me. It worked really well back in 2012 and it's good to have Takuma back home.”
Nault believes he's getting a better driver than the Sato that drove for the team in 2012.
“He has been perfecting his craft now for a few years and he is getting better and better and better,” Nault said. “I think he will continue to do so.
“Like all professionals, Takuma is striving to get better every year. And I think it will be a positive influence for Graham as well. We have the engineering foundation to push different things at different times with two different drivers. We look forward to having Takuma on board and want to be championship contenders next year.”
The 17-race 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season begins March 11 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. A two-day series-wide open test is set for Feb. 9-10 at Phoenix Raceway.