Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

For the second consecutive season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing carried the Honda flag in 2016 and finished as best of the rest in IndyCar and now the team looks to continue to be the Japanese manufacture's leader for a third consecutive season. The task hasn't got any easier as the team will have to contest with the returning Chip Ganassi Racing, a rebuilt Andretti Autosport, an unchanged Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and a Sébastien Bourdais-led Dale Coyne Racing for that honor.

2016 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Texas)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 5th (Sonoma).
Final Championship Positions: 5th (Graham Rahal).

2017 Drivers:

Graham Rahal - #15 United Rentals/Steak & Shake Honda
After a career year in 2015, where Rahal found himself in championship contention until the final race, the American had a more up-and-down 2016 season but still was a contender in many races and continued to carry the Honda flag. He challenged Simon Pagenaud at Barber in one of the more thrilling road course battles in recent memory only to have contact with a back marker force him to limp home in second-place. He had another great run at Road America and Mid-Ohio before taking a photo-finish victory at Texas and ended the season with another battle with Pagenaud at Sonoma and again coming home in second position.

Numbers to Remember: 
4.5: Average finish in the championship the last two seasons (Rahal is the first American to finish in the top five in the championship in consecutive seasons since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006 and 2007).

14: Laps led in 2016, the fifth-fewest laps led by a race winner in a season since reunification (Dan Wheldon: 1 (2011), Danica Patrick: 4 (2008), Carlos Huertas: 7 (2014), Ed Carpenter: 11 (2011)).

4: Rahal has qualified in the top five four times in the DW12-era. (Texas 2012 (3rd), Houston 2 2014 (4th), Pocono 2015 (5th), Sonoma 2016 (5th). This does not include having his qualifying time disallowed at the 2016 Grand Prix of Indianapolis after qualifying third).

Rahal had eight top five finishes in 2016, tied for the second-most but those were his only top ten finishes in the season. If he can maintain that number of top five finishes and podiums (which he had four of), but add four or five top ten finishes, he is going to be a legitimate championship contender. He needs to improve on big ovals where the team has lacked speed the last few seasons. Qualifying, as a whole is something Rahal needs to improve on as the facts above show. He hasn't had multiple top five starts in a season since he had six in 2011. To be fair, he did make the Fast Six session on five occasions in 2016 out of ten races and that does not include losing his third-place starting position in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. I don't think Rahal is going to be the top Honda driver in the championship but he will again finish solidly in the top ten of the championship and will get a win on a road course.

Oriol Servià - #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
After getting a surprise substitute role for Will Power at St. Petersburg, Servià was back at Indianapolis with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and made an impressive qualifying run and ended up starting tenth and had a solid race, running around the top ten all day and finished 12th. Servià has made 199 IndyCar starts and is confirmed for only the Indianapolis 500 but the team hopes to have the Catalan driver competing in more than one race in 2017.

Numbers to Remember: 
104: Starts since Servià's only IndyCar victory at Montreal in 2005.

4: Servià's last four IndyCar starts have been with four different teams (RLLR, Andretti, Penske, Schmidt Peterson).

11: Serviá has had a top ten finish with 11 of the 15 teams he has driven for (PPI Motorsports, Sigma Autosport, PWR Championship Racing, Patrick Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Newman-Haas Racing, PKV/KV Racing, Team Forsythe, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Panther Racing and RLLR).

I think the goal is to have Servià run more than one race but I don't think he runs majority of the schedule. Maybe RLLR can roll in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and/or the Belle Isle doubleheader into an Indianapolis 500 sponsorship deal as those races are on ABC and get better ratings than the rest of the schedule. As for how he will do at Indianapolis? If RLLR can find some speed opposed from the last few years, Servià should be able to qualify somewhere between row four and row seven and run a respectable race and finish on the lead lap.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.