FIRST INDY CAR RACE FOR RLL IN LONG BEACH SINCE 2003; LUCKY 13TH RACE HERE?

Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda
Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing began their 21st consecutive season of competition in 2012. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (TGPLB) marks the team’s 13th time to compete in the event and their first 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 here last year with Joey Hand and Dirk Müller.

In their 12 previous Indy car races in Long Beach, the team entered 21 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) and Jourdain (2002-2003). 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). The team prepares a full season entry for Japanese driver Takuma Sato in 2012.

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING – TWICE THE ACTION WITH TWO SERIES

This weekend’s race will mark the first time for the team to compete in two series on the same weekend in almost five years. RLL’s ALMS and Indy car teams last competed at the same venue on September 1-2, 2007 at Detroit’s Raceway at Belle Isle. BMW Team RLL fields two BMW M3’s for drivers Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Jörg Müller and Bill Auberlen. In three years of competing in Long Beach, the team has finished third in 2009 and 2010 and won in 2011 with Hand and Dirk Müller. Hand, Dirk Müller and third driver Jonathan Summerton started the 2012 season with a win in the 12 Hours of Sebring, the previous ALMS race.

TECHNICAL DIRECTOR JAY O’CONNELL ON LOGISTICS & BENEFITS OF A RLL DOUBLEHEADER

“From a logistics standpoint, it is pretty good to have both teams, engineers and etc. at the same site,” said O’Connell, who oversees both Indy car and ALMS programs. “Obviously there are different trucks and different paddocks but they are only a few minutes apart and we share the same pit lane so it’s pretty easy to go from one session to the next. Both series are not on track at the same time so it’s just a matter of keeping up on each session and making sure that the engineers and drivers on each program are staying on top of each cars performance.

“There is definitely some useful information that can be taken from our races in Long Beach, both in Indy car and ALMS that transfer to the other program. First of all, our continued awareness of Long Beach track details and how the curbing has changed from year to year in some of the different corners helps. And also just knowing the cornering speeds and straightaway speeds to get the gears right to start the Indy car weekend. We can use our Long Beach data from 2003 and we can also use our more recent ALMS data to make sure that the gear ratios are at a good starting point for the first practice in Indy car.”

MONACO RESIDENT SATO ENJOYS ANOTHER FAMOUS STREET COURSE

The 2012 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will mark the third event at the track for Takuma Sato. He got off to a good start in 2012 when he put RLL in the lead of the St. Petersburg race in their return to full-season participation when he took the position twice for a total of 11 laps. A mechanical issue forced the team’s retirement from the race after the final pit stop. In Round 2, he passed four cars on the Barber Motorsport Park road course before retiring from that event with mechanical failure as well. He is hoping for a better result in Long Beach. While competing in Formula One for seven seasons, Sato raced at another famous street course – the Monaco Grand Prix, which is where he currently resides. He enjoys racing in Long Beach each year and enjoys the atmosphere.

“Long Beach has been known as one of most famous street courses in the world with such a long history. I love the atmosphere of the place. I enjoy the fans, being downtown by the water and everything; the whole place is just great. I think the local support for Indy car racing is very high and I can see everyone really enjoys the weekend. Unfortunately I didn't have a great race either of my previous two years. There were some unfortunate situations too but I hope we have a good strong weekend this year.”

THE ELUSIVE WIN; FOUR SECOND-PLACE FINISHES FOR RAHAL AS A DRIVER & ANOTHER AS OWNER

Rahal competed in Long Beach as a driver eight times (1984-1991) and as a driver/owner another seven (1992-1998) for a total of 15 events. He finished second four times in Long Beach, the last two times as an owner/driver (1988, 1991, 1992, 1993) and Jimmy Vasser brought the team another second place finish in 2002. A win here in the IndyCar Series race would be his first as a driver or team owner. Rahal also earned two front row starts (2nd – 1985, 1998) and a total of 11 top-10 starts.

SATO ON THE CHALLENGES OF STREET COURSES

“You have to give it everything in racing. We push the car to the limit and sometimes it's less than an inch to the wall so there is no margin for mistake on street courses in general. And most of the corners are blind because of Armco or the wall so it needs a lot of concentration and you have to be very precise, especially. Those things are what make street racing so challenging. Also the track surface is generally bumpy and slippery and the track revolution is big as a lot of rubber is laid down over the course of the weekend which is challenging for getting the balance right from an engineering point of view.”

SIMILAR PASSING OPPORTUNITIES AS THE ST. PETE STREET COURSE?

Sato passed three cars on the start of the season’s previous street race in St. Petersburg, another three on a restart and another two later. He led two times and had pitted from the lead before mechanical failure forced him to retire from the race. The team is hopeful of as many passing opportunities in Long Beach.

“The courses are not exactly similar but there are some overtaking opportunities due to heavy braking after the long straight,” said Sato. “But hopefully I don't have to pass many cars; I just need to start from the front! The team has been improving all the time and we have been learning every time we run the car. The two races were very different type of the courses so we gained good experience for this new car and leaned a lot so I expect there is another step forward at Long Beach.”

NEW PIT RULE UNDER CAUTION AND O’CONNELL’S IMPRESSION OF THE IMPACT

Beginning at Long Beach, Pit Road will be open from the outset of non- emergency full-course cautions on road and street courses, potentially cutting the number of laps under yellow. The procedure will be employed for the remainder of the IZOD IndyCar Series season. Also beginning at Long Beach, lapped traffic will move to the rear of the field during any restarts in the final 20 laps of road/street course events.

“It reminds me of years past when we had similar rules,” said O’Connell. “I think the main impact will be a shift in strategies since we will be racing under yellow, albeit at a lower speed, which affects the strategy decisions you will be making as opposed to when the pits are closed under yellow. We need to think carefully about how to adjust our strategy programs and our quick-decision tools because those decisions are going to change. It doesn’t really impact fuel mileage other than when you are in the yellow, there is less laps under yellow so you can’t stretch the fuel window as far as you could before. You can never count on yellow laps to help you save fuel to the end but now, if you did count on them, you are going to count on them even less because they are going to be shorter and there is less chance to stretch a tight window out further with a yellow cycle that is going to be shorter. It has implications in the race on the strategy and we have to think carefully about incorporating that into our decision making tools. It definitely impacts the entertainment value and changes the flow of the race. It can be an opportunity to move up with a good call and it’s also an opportunity to go a lap down. You have to be careful to use it to your advantage and not get burned by it.”

SATO ON THE IMPACT OF TIRE MANAGEMENT IN 2012

“Tire management is always a key factor in racing but at the Barber race, it seemed to be very challenging to get it right and was much more than it was at St. Pete. We have to wait and see how it will be at Long Beach but I expect it will be similar to St. Pete.”

SATO ON RLL’S ALMS PROGRAM

“I'm not familiar with RLL's ALMS team as I haven't gotten a chance to see them yet but I will in a couple of days! I've been following their competitive races and wins and it was a great start of the season with winning at Sebring so I think they are on very good form this year too. I am very much looking forward to seeing them.”