After three years with Chip Ganassi Racing, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal has taken his lucrative sponsorship package across the paddock to his father’s team. To call this change “long anticipated” as the RLL press release states is quite an understatement.
For most of the 2012 season, the talk within the series was all about how Ganassi provided minimal services to Rahal, 23, and ended up with a healthy profit from the sponsorships. While this has not been verified, most consider it likely that the situation will be much different with RLL, a team owned by Rahal’s father, open wheel icon Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, the CBS late night television personality, and longtime race supporter and Mi-Jack co-owner Michael Lanigan.
It’s really an exciting time for me.
“It’s extremely exciting for me to join Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing fulltime,” said Graham Rahal. “It’s something that I thought really wouldn’t happen this early in my career but, at this point, it absolutely makes the most sense for us. For me, this is probably the most excited I have been to join any team because I see the potential behind what my dad and the rest of the team have been able to accomplish over the last year with Takuma. And knowing the development and other things that the team will now have the time to do to prepare for the season makes me more than thrilled to be here. I can’t wait for the whole process to begin – the testing and obviously going racing! It’s really an exciting time for me.”
Indeed, it is understood that the funds that come with primary sponsor TBC Retail Group, which owns brands such as Midas, Big O Tires, and SpeeDee Oil and Tuneup should be sufficient to allow the hiring of top shelf talent within open wheel racing, something that should allow Graham Rahal to compete with other top notch teams in the series such as Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport and vie for championships. In addition, young Rahal has additional sponsorship support from Valvoline, who will be Graham’s primary associate sponsor. It will hopefully create the type of environment that both Rahals would have wished for had Bobby’s team been competing in the IndyCar Series in 2010.
According to Bobby Rahal, co-owner of RLL, “I think this is a great moment for our family, for the team and for the sport and I thank TBC Retail Group and Valvoline for making it possible. Of course, for me, the pressure is really on us to deliver the goods so that Graham can realize all the potential he has. I think we can create an environment that will allow him to fulfill that potential. The last time Graham was the leader of the team was when he was with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in 2009. For only a 20 year old kid, he won a couple of poles, had a number of very good races, and was very competitive and finished seventh in the championship.
That’s one excited team owner plus one excited driver. Clearly, since Ryan Hunter-Reay won the series championship in September 2012, other US drivers can only be more motivated than ever before to join the tall Floridian as an Indy Car champion. And certainly other than Graham Rahal, the other driver who is most focused on that goal is Marco Andretti, the driver that most consider to be Graham’s arch rival. Just as their fathers competed against each other back in the CART days, this change will for the first time allow Graham Rahal to compete with Marco Andretti on a more level playing field. And that cannot be good news for young Andretti, who has been out driven by most of the competitors hired by his father Michael Andretti. Tony Kaanan, Danica Patrick, and Dan Wheldon are gone from the team. Now Marco has to contend with possibly being out performed by James Hinchcliffe, and Hunter-Reay, in addition to arch rival in a much stronger position.