By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
With the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season rapidly approaching, Motorsports Tribune is previewing each of the teams competing on the tour. The site’s IndyCar staff will break each team down, laying out their results from the previous season while previewing the year to come for the organization and their driver(s).
What Happened Last Year: A trying start turned into another strong season in 2017 for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Graham Rahal piloted the team’s lone full-time entry in the No. 15 RLL Racing Honda and endured a less than ideal start to the season with a best finish of 10th in the opening four races. Two of the results were 17th or worst.
However, the second-generation star pulled off a remarkable run in the final 13 races, which included a sweep on the streets of Detroit and only two finishes outside the top 10 – 12th (Indy 500, Gateway). The wave of momentum carried him to sixth in the championship standings at season’s end.
Additionally, the team brought longtime respected veteran Oriol Servia on for three races (Indy 500, Detroit doubleheader). Unfortunately, the best the Spaniard could muster was 19th in the second race at Detroit.
Zachary Claman DeMelo made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut at the season finale in Sonoma. The talented young Canadian finished up his second Indy Lights season just two weeks prior, finishing fifth in the championship. However, the focus for his first IndyCar start was simply to keep it clean and learn as much as he could, which proved to be a good mindset en route to finishing 17th.
2018 Breakdown: The offseason has been an incredibly busy one for this group, which included a plethora of sponsor announcements and the return of former pilot Takuma Sato.
The Indianapolis 500 champion a season ago with Andretti Autosport, Sato is set to bolster the organization and provide Rahal with the full-time teammate that’s been longed for since 2013.
Despite not being one of the team’s that was involved in manufacturer testing for the new universal aero kit, the RLL Racing duo swept the IndyCar open test at ISM Raceway in Phoenix last month.
Of the six wins Rahal owns in his Indy car career, three have come on street circuits, including St. Petersburg (2008), the site of this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series season opener.
Additionally, Tom German, who was an engineering consultant at RLL Racing last season, has moved on the No. 15 pit box as Rahal’s engineer. German’s background includes a decade-plus run at Team Penske, as well as stops at Patrick Racing and others. In 2016, he worked with Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian when Alexander Rossi won the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
As a solo team, this squad has finished fourth, fifth and sixth in the championship the past three seasons. Now with the addition of an experienced and fast teammate in Sato, this organization could be an even bigger pain to the traditional titans of the grid and provide an even greater challenge for the championship.