Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing began their 22nd consecutive season of competition in 2013. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (TGPLB) marks the team’s 14th time to compete in the event and their second since 2003 when Michel Jourdain, Jr. won pole, led a race high 48 laps and was in the lead when his car stuck in gear on his final stop with seven laps to go and ultimately retired in 15th place. Although the team didn’t compete in Indy car races here from 2004-2011 while they fielded a fulltime entry in the Indy Racing League (2004-2008), they did compete in the 2003 and 2004 Atlantic races with Danica Patrick and in the 2007 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) race. In 2009, the team returned to the streets of Long Beach in the ALMS with BMW Team RLL and finished on the podium each year since then including a win in 2011 with Joey Hand and Dirk Müller.
In their 13 previous Indy car races in Long Beach, the team entered 22 cars for drivers such as Bobby Rahal (1992-1998), Mike Groff (1994), Raul Boesel (1995), Bryan Herta (1996-1999), Max Papis (1999-2001), Kenny Brack (2000-2001), Jimmy Vasser (2002), Jourdain (2002-2003) and Takuma Sato (2012). In total, the team won three poles (Herta 1998, Vasser 2002, Jourdain, Jr. 2003); made five front row starts including an all-Team Rahal front row in 1998 (2nd – Rahal 1998, Brack 2001); earned their best finish of second place three times (Rahal 1992-1993, Vasser 2002) and earned five podiums (2nd - Rahal 1992-1993, Vasser 2002; 3rd - Herta 1998-1999). In 2012, Sato ran in the top-three most of the race and led two times for a total of 16 laps. He was en route to a then career-best series finish of third place on the final lap when he was the victim of “avoidable contact” by Hunter-Reay in Turn 8 and ultimately was scored with an eight place finish due to a multi-car pileup that blocked the track leading to the front straight.
We expect to have three very competitive Indy cars.
The team has prepared five cars for the Long Beach weekend – three of which are entered in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach IZOD IndyCar Series race on Sunday including the No. 15 Midas / Big O Tires entry for Graham Rahal, the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts entry for James Jakes and has added another entry for 2011 event winner Mike Conway – the No. 17 blu eCigs car. The team also prepares two entries under the name BMW Team RLL that will compete in the GT class of the American Le Mans Series race on Saturday.
Bobby Rahal on running five cars at Long Beach
“Having an ALMS race on Saturday and an Indy car race on Sunday is like having the best of both worlds. There is great competition on all three days so if you are a fan going to the event, there is something for everybody. I really like the ALMS/IndyCar weekends we have had in the past at Baltimore and Mid-Ohio. For us particularly -- having a foot in both series -- it’s going to be extremely busy. I will be involved in both so for me personally it is going to be one of the busiest race weekends I can remember in a while. Not just with the BMW cars running but also expanding to three Indy cars. It’s going to be a little crazy for sure but having Mike Conway join the team and blu eCigs as a sponsor is obviously a big deal for us. We expect to have three very competitive Indy cars.”
Graham Rahal on competitive runs in Long Beach and contact with Marco in 2012
The 2013 event will mark the seventh Champ or Indy car race here for Graham Rahal and first with his father’s team. In 2012, he qualified 15th for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing (SCCGR), started eighth due to penalties to Chevrolet-powered teams and ran as high as fourth but contact with Marco Andretti limited him to a 24th place finish. In 2011, he qualified 16th for SCCGR and finished 13th. In 2010 he started and finished 22nd for Sarah Fisher Racing after contact. He started seventh and finished 12th for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in 2009. In 2008 he started ninth and had a podium in sight when he was alongside third place but contact during this pass led to a 13th place finish. He started fifth in 2007 but the pit strategy of others and slow fuel flow related to teething problems for the all-new Panoz Champ Car on two stops limited his finish to eighth place.
“My race last year was cut short because Marco and I got together but we ran very competitively and I’ve been competitive there almost every year in the race but I never quite get to the finish so this year I hope we make it happen for the Midas / Big O Tires team.”
Jakes hoping to fulfill past potential at Long Beach
“The first year I raced in Long Beach, it was obviously my first time to see the place so it was tough. Then last year, practices were rained out on Friday. Some teams didn’t practice in the first one and the second one was cancelled so it was tough just jumping in for the third practice. We had a good race, we were running sixth and I made a mistake at Turn 1 and had to spin around and join the field again so that was disappointing. Generally we have been quick there; we just haven’t been able to show it. I think we can do that this year. I’m looking forward to going back.”
Conway on his 2011 win and past results at Long Beach
The 2013 event will mark the fifth for Mike Conway, 29, in Long Beach as well as his first IndyCar Series race in 2013. In 2012 he qualified 14th, started seventh after series penalties to Chevy-powered teams and retired in 22nd due to mechanical issues while driving for AJ Foyt Racing. In 2011, he qualified third, led 14 laps and won with Andretti Autosport. In 2010, he qualified 16th and finished 10th with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. And in his first event on the streets of Long Beach in 2009, he qualified 16th and retired in 21st after contact. Conway confesses that once he won, the memories of the other events faded in comparison to his 2011 victory.
“Last year, we burned down unfortunately. We had an engine issue and that kind of burned everything which stopped us so it was a shame. But we didn’t really have the car that dialed in anyway. The years before were up and down really. I can’t really remember the other races; they kind of all faded away after I won. It’s been a tough, tricky track; easy to make a mistake on. I suppose I really felt like I got to know what the car needs more than anything the last few years; what the tires are after. I think I really dialed myself into a lot of circuits, just getting the setups right. Long Beach has got its own unique corners to it so it’s not the same setup you would run at St. Pete. Even though it looks similar, the corners are quite different. You have different surfaces there as well. It’s quite a unique place but similar characteristics in terms of other street courses with big curbs, bumps and walls everywhere.”
Rahal, Jakes and Conway on what makes Long Beach special
“Long Beach is special just because of the history of the event; it’s been around for so long,” said Rahal. “It means a lot to be a winner at that track. To have any sort of success there is tough; it’s not an easy track to win at. It would feel good for us to get one under our belt there.”
“It’s a great event,” added Jakes. “So many fans turn out. There is a real buzz about the race. It’s always fun to get there three or four days before the race and be a part of it. The layout always produces a great event. I am excited to get back out there especially after a disappointing weekend in Barber considering we were pretty quick. Hopefully we can have a good result there.”
“Long Beach is one of the stand-out events of the IndyCar season like the Indy 500,” added Conway. “Its one of the biggest street races the series goes to because a huge crowd turns up and there are a lot of parties going on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. It’s a cool event and there are different categories racing and a lot of things for the fans to do to keep them occupied. There is a lot of history at that place but I didn’t know how much history there was until I was up on the podium there. I was really able to appreciate it when I saw all of the faces of the winners embedded in the floor; it was cool. Its one of the ones I look forward to.”
Rahal, Jakes and Conway on the challenges of the course
“It’s tough because it’s like every other street course in that it is bumpy,” said Rahal. “It’s got some pretty high speed corners where it’s pretty easy to make mistakes. It’s probably one of the less forgiving of the street courses, particularly the fountain section. If you get in a little too deep there is just not enough time to react so that’s what makes it so tough.”
It’s a tricky course, especially in qualifying.
“Obviously it’s a long race so it’s going to be physically tough,” added Jakes. “The biggest challenges are making sure you have a good balance in the low speed corners and good traction, especially for the race with full fuel on board. It goes without saying that the easier the car is to drive, the easier the race is going to be for you. I’m sure we will have a good car there and be in great shape.”
“Its always different each time we go out because the grip level is changing due to the different categories racing on the track with different tires,” said Conway. “It can change things up. There are the usual bumpy corners but there are lots of corners where you are braking turning in and lots of medium speed corners and low-speed corners. It’s a tricky course, especially in qualifying. It’s really a rewarding lap because you run so close to the walls everywhere from turn in to exit, using as much curb as possible in places. It’s pretty cool. That’s the reason why the hardest corners are the flowing complex in the last section, the last three corners. Even though you have a tight, square hairpin, it’s quite an art to get through the corners before that to really get the thing stopped for the hairpin. So that last section can be a lot of time -- gained or lost.”
Rahal on getting the results the team deserves after challenging races
Rahal was in ninth place in the season-opener in St. Pete when the team discovered an electrical issue on Lap 22 under caution that shut the engine off intermittently and dropped him to 21st place. He soldiered on to finish 13th. At Round 2 in Barber, he set a lap time that was fast enough to progress to Round 2 and qualify in the top-12 at Barber if he had been in Group 2 but was in Group 1 and qualified 21st. He had to pit for a new nose on the opening lap after the field checked up and he hit Servia but he was 12th on the final lap until the last two turns when he ran out of fuel and finished 21st. Once the team returned to the shop, a malfunction was discovered that prevented the car from taking the full amount of fuel expected on the final stop.
“Obviously we are focused on improving as much as we can and we think that there is good speed in the car in race trim,” said Rahal. “We have to make it better in all of the practice sessions and throughout the day but I feel good about it. We will start to get some of the results that we deserve. It’s a matter of time but hopefully Long Beach will be a good turn for us.”
James on turning strong performances into results
Jakes ran as high as sixth in the St. Pete season-opener and finished 15th after fueling issues. He qualified 11th at Barber but had to pit early in the race when the camber shims fell out of the left rear upright which put him two laps down to the leader. He soldiered on, set the fastest lap of the race and finished 23rd.
“I think we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” said Jakes. “The guys have been working hard at the shop and I have got faith in them. They will do all they can outside of the car and I will do my job inside the car. We have been pretty strong in certain areas but haven’t been able to show it. We’ll just keep working away and hopefully this weekend we will be able to do that.”
Conway on his first IndyCar race in 2013 versus others approaching Round 3
“There will obviously be people who are race ready having competed in the first two events, but I have been thinking about Long Beach since the start of the year. I don’t feel like I am rusty. When I jumped in the car at Barber it was all good during the one-day test. I felt at home straight away in the car and that was the main thing. I felt comfortable. I have been doing laps of Long Beach in my head for the last few months so I feel like I am in tune that way. Getting used to the new tires Firestone is using this year and getting myself up to speed as soon as possible shouldn’t take long. With all the little things you miss with setups here and there and key areas – I just have to quickly make changes and hopefully have Graham help me get up to speed as quick as possible but I feel ready. I can’t wait to get in the car really. Racing at the six hour event at Silverstone (April 14) helped get me ready for race conditions.”
Rahal, Jakes and Conway on working together
“Mike is going to be very quick around there,” added Jakes. “He won the race in 2011 and he’s going to be a great member to have on the team from a setup point of view and just extracting data from our car. All three of us will be very competitive so that should drive us forward on the grid. Everyone is looking forward to having him on board.”
“I got a little taste of working with Graham and James at the one-day Barber test we had,” added Conway. “It seemed pretty good with what we were all feeling with the car. We all had similar comments so I think that is good. It will be good to know that if I make a change (to the car) and like it or if Graham makes a change and he likes it then we will be able to transfer that to the other cars and it will make us all quicker. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. I’m sure we will be more competitive as the weekend goes on and all want to beat each other but at the same time we are there all working as a team and trying to get everybody up to the front. We all want a good result at the end of the day. We want to come away with a good finish and put on a good show for the fans and obviously the blu eCigs guys and show them a good time for their first Indy car race.”
Early arrivals for Rahal and Jakes to California
“I will be keeping pretty busy in California when I’m not on track,” said Rahal. “I shoot a TV show on Monday, play some golf on Tuesday and go to the Columbus Blue Jackets versus the Ducks on Wednesday night with Honda and people from our sponsor Norm Reeves Honda. I am going to see my friends at (golf apparel), there is a (Graham Rahal) Foundation event and the RRDC event with (sponsor) TranSystems. It will be kind of fun to be in California early and keep busy.”
“I will arrive early in the week to California and will play some golf and may go surfing depending on the surf conditions,” added Jakes. “I have a little bit of work to do with Travis Mathew; crash some golf carts with Graham in a little photo shoot so that should be fun. Then I will just get ready for the weekend. I can’t wait.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing