By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – A 1-2-3 finish at the Indianapolis 500. Never been done.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing did score a first and a third in last year’s 500, won by Takuma Sato won. Graham Rahal got a career-equal result of third. Spencer Pigot on the other hand, had a noble run but his day was cut short after a violent Turn 4 crash.
It ended the race, securing the other RLL competitors track positions. A P1 and P3 finish has been done in the past with Andretti Green Racing (2005) and Team Penske (1988) being prime examples. Even 1-2 finishes from Penske in 2003 and 2015 have happened, but never a podium sweep.
If you ask all three competitors during Thursday’s Media Day, each feel confident about a potential 1-2-3 finish. Yet, this year’s 500 has a common theme — nothing’s given to anyone.
To make Indy history, RLL Racing would have to stop Chip Ganassi Racing’s quartet, notably Scott Dixon. Another team that’ll be a threat for Indy glory is Andretti Autosport with Colton Herta starting second. It’ll be an insurmountable task indeed, but the RLL trio are going to give it their all on race day.
For Sato, he’s looking to become the first driver since Helio Castroneves (2001-02) to successfully retain his Indy 500 champ status. Oh by the way, there’s $380,000 on the line. Yes, should Sato pull it off, he’ll get hefty check from Borg-Warner.
As cool as the check sounds, Sato knows it’s something he shouldn’t be thinking about, knowing what’s in store.
“Anything’s possible,” said Sato. “Through the long runs and group runs, we were switching back and forth. I was able to overtake and have been overtaken. It’s definitely a tighter field, much tighter than last year.
“With IndyCar’s new device and the aero package, it’s easier to follow the car but it’s still hard. But relatively easier. You’re going to see a much tighter pack and good racing.”
Sato felt his No. 30 have shown consistent speed and it’s their greatest strength. That’s one element he expects it’ll transfer from his second 500 victory.
“Even though everybody has more downforce this year, so everybody doesn’t denigrate as it was last year. I think we have a strong car and that’s what I hope,” said Sato. “If I can do that in the first 100 laps and be in the top-five. Start controlling the race in the front group. Then we have a good chance to challenge the leaders.”
Rahal had a shot of winning The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but last August wasn’t meant to be. Now being a father, there’s a new profound of confidence for the veteran. While qualifying didn’t turn out too good, the car is prepared for the fight. Couldn’t have happened at a perfect time as well.
“We’re quite good. Our race cars will be fast. I think we seem to be the best of our team so far,” said Rahal. “You have to race smart. No mistakes, no errors. This weekend, it’s going to be easy to screw up. We must put ourselves in the right position to be successful.”
Indy 500’s wild card may well be Ferrucci. He’s driving the third RLL entry that Pigot partly piloted last year. It so happens that Ferrucci is also a part-time racer this season. Concentrating in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Sam Hunt Racing, Ferrucci’s determination in IndyCar hasn’t left him.
Although he crashed during practice May 18, Ferrucci’s maturity continues to progress.
Unless your name is Conor Daly after Fast Friday, Rahal has at least seen maturity from the versatile racer. When comparing Ferrucci to Pigot, Rahal responded by saying it boils down to their race day approach.
“Not that Spencer was bad, but he was conservative. Santino is not. That’s why right away you’re seeing the speed out of Santino,” Rahal when comparing the two. “Spencer is just more conservative, thinking about the ending process. With Santino, he more thinks about how am I going to go fast here and now.
“But I do think he has a great job. Got quick hands and willing to takes a lot of chances. We’ve all known that for a long time.
“Maybe overstep that last week, but he learned from that too. That’ll help him going into this weekend. Hopefully, we can get him in a better place as a team and be able to have a good shot.”
Ferrucci spoke with Rahal about what it’ll take to have a banner day. Knowing the cars are going to be quick, being smart is essential. Zero room for error in a tough 200-lap odyssey like Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We’re all starting almost a row apart from each other. Remember it’s 500 miles, 200 laps, lot of pit stops,” said Ferrucci. “(Graham) put it best, it’s about minimizing mistakes. It’s an easy race to make mistakes and very hard to run perfect. If we minimize our mistakes, we’ll all get up there. I have lot of belief in this team. They’ve worked hard enough, and the cars are good enough.”
When the green flag waves, the field of 33 will go in an all-out war. Sato will roll off 15th with Rahal being a row behind him in 18th. Ferrucci rounds out the trio by starting 23rd. Each have work to do, but know what they’ve signed up for at Indy.