INDIANAPOLIS — This is the second of a 12-part series of comprehensive team previews as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES prepares for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg set for March 13-15 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
The preview series features each of the full-time teams as well as teams running a partial schedule that includes the season-opening race. Today’s featured organization: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Coming Wednesday: AJ Foyt Racing.
The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network on Sunday, March 15, at 3 p.m. ET.
Starting Lineup: Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda), Takuma Sato (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda), Spencer Pigot (No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with Citrone/Buhl Autosport Honda for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway races).
2019 Recap: Sato had one of his better seasons, winning a pair of races (at Barber Motorsports Park and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway) to extend his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one race win to three. Only Josef Newgarden (four) and Simon Pagenaud (three) had more wins last season, and Sato also finished third in the Indianapolis 500. The 200 laps that Sato led during the 17-race season ranked fifth among all drivers and after his Barber victory he stood third in the standings. Sato went on to finish ninth. Rahal finished one position behind Sato in the standings, scoring a third-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway and three fourth-place finishes (Circuit of The Americas, Long Beach and Road America). He qualified second at Barber. Pigot finished 14th in the standings while driving for Ed Carpenter Racing, his team of three NTT INDYCAR SERIES seasons.
What’s New for 2020: Pigot joins the team for a third entry in the two May races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Bobby Rahal’s team brought Pigot into the series in 2016 with three races, including the two at Indy, and he completed all but six laps. Pigot qualified on the front row for last year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He finished fifth in last year’s IMS road race, now known as the GMR Grand Prix.
Keep An Eye On: Rahal was close to victory lane last year, arguably having the strongest car at Barber before pulling off course with battery failure on Lap 56. A final-lap penalty at Long Beach kept him off the podium, and a late pit stop cost him a podium position at Road America.
Season Outlook: The strong performance by RLLR in 2019 is reason to forecast a strong season for Rahal and Sato, who both finished in the top 10 in points and ran better in the Indianapolis 500 than most people realized (Sato finished third after coming back from one lap down). The team has won eight races over the past five seasons, including two last year by Sato, and that success figures to continue in 2020.
“A Different Breed” Notable: Rahal is not only an avid golfer; he is good enough at the sport to have played in and won PGA pro-am tournaments with five-time PGA Tour event winner Rickie Fowler.
Owner’s Take: “We’ve had more and better testing this offseason in the wind tunnel and with seven-post tests, and I think we’ve come up with some things that makes our cars much more accurate (in those tests) and that will be a big plus. There are a lot of positives on the development and research side of our program. Last year, we really should have finished 1-2 at Barber, and we had races where we were clearly better – or at least as good – (as) everyone else. Then there were races where we weren’t. The goal is to reduce the peaks and valleys and have more of a flat line on the high level.” – Bobby Rahal.