Pre-Race Notes/Quotes for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Verizon IndyCar Series Season-Opener

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Pre-Race Notes

Fire­stone Grand Prix of St. Peters­burg – Streets of St.   Peters­burg, Florida

Round 1 of 18 in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series 



Friday – Sunday, March 28 – 30, 2014


Live on the IMS Radio Network and (timing & scoring + commentating)


Live on ABC Sports Network, Sunday, March 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET


The race will air on IMS Radio Network, XM 211 & Sirius 211


1.8-mile, 14-turn street course


110 laps / 198 miles

2013 WINNER:                                 

James Hinch­cliffe

2013 POLESITTER:                         

Will Power (1:01.2070; 105.870 mph)

RLLR TOP START/ FINISH AT STPETE:                    

6th by Hunter-Reay in 2008 (led 4) / 5th by Meira in 2005; will be 7th event


1st in 2009 / 1st in 2008; will be his seventh race here


Pole at St. Pete 2009 & Kansas 2009 / 1st in St. Pete in 2008




The 2014 Fire­stone Grand Prix of St. Peters­burg will mark the seventh IndyCar Series race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) in St.   Peters­burg. RLL has entered the No. 15 National Guard entry for Graham Rahal and will expand to two cars for the next four events to include the No. 16 entry for Oriol Servia.  The National Guard entry will bring the team’s total to 11 entries for this event.  The team previ­ously prepared Indy cars for Danica Patrick (2005 – 2006), Buddy Rice (2005 – 2006), Vitor Meira (2005), Jeff Simmons (2007), Scott Sharp (2007), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008), Takuma Sato (2012), Graham Rahal (2013) and James Jakes (2013) here. The team led the race for four laps with Hunter-Reay in 2008 but a different Rahal – Graham – won the event.  In 2013, Rahal had elec­trical issues that shut of his engine and dropped him to the back but he soldiered on to finish 13th. Jakes had fueling issues and finished 15th.  RLL has earned three top-10 finishes with the best being fifth by Meira in 2005.  The highest starting posi­tion by the team is sixth place by Hunter-Reay in 2008.



In 2014, Graham will compete in his seventh event here.  After his history-making win here in 2008 with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) at the age of 19 years, 93 days, he won pole in 2009 with NHLR to also become the youngest pole winner in series history.  He was hit from behind on the opening lap and finished seventh. In his other starts here, he qual­i­fied 15th in 2013 for RLL and was in ninth place when the team discov­ered an elec­trical issue on Lap 22 under caution that shut the engine off inter­mit­tently 6 – 7 times and dropped him to 21st place. He soldiered on to finish 13th. He qual­i­fied 11th in 2012 and finished 12th and qual­i­fied 12th in 2011 and finished 17th – both for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing (SCCGR).  He qual­i­fied 16th and finished 9th for Sarah Fisher Racing in 2010.  While with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, he won pole in 2009 and finished seventh and qual­i­fied ninth, led 19 laps and won in his series debut in ‘08 at the age of 19 years, 93 days old.

He is one of five former previous race winners entered this year: James Hinch­cliffe (2013), Helio Castron­eves (2006, 2007 and 2012), Will Power (2010), Ryan Briscoe (2009) and Graham Rahal (2008). Graham is excited starting a new season with a clean slate.

I can’t wait to get this season started, to get our National Guard car out there and get racing. It’s like being a kid on Christmas day.  We all wait for this time of the year to get going, and it’s finally here. St. Pete is a special place for me, so I hope it all starts off just like it should!  It’s really just diffi­cult because it’s pretty tight, there is zero margin for error and that makes it extremely demanding.”



During the off-season, the team has made some addi­tions to improve the level of compe­ti­tion. Bill Pappas, who has over 25 years of racing expe­ri­ence, joined the team as Rahal’s race engi­neer. Most recently he served as Justin Wilson’s engi­neer at Dale Coyne Racing (DCR). John Dick returned to the team in the capacity of Head of Research and Devel­op­ment to the IndyCar Series program. He also most recently served as a race engi­neer at DCR.  Those two, coupled with team manager Ricardo Nault, who joined the team 21 years ago in 1994, crew chief Mitch Davis, and chief mechanic Donny Stewart, who has been with Rahal since his begin­ning in go-karting, make a formi­dable lead­er­ship combi­na­tion. Eddie Jones, who will be Servia’s race engi­neer, is a bonus to Rahal’s program.

I think we have a great future ahead of us as a team,” said Rahal. “We made a lot of changes this winter. I’m sure there is still some learning to do, but I really believe we have strength­ened the orga­ni­za­tion and it should pay big divi­dends for us in the future.”



Manu­fac­turer compe­ti­tion between Chevrolet and Honda returned to the series in 2012. For the 2014 season, both manu­fac­turers will supply twin-turbocharged, direct-injection engines fueled by E85.

It seems to be running well,” Rahal said of Honda’s new twin turbo engine. “We have to keep making gains with it and adjusting it to fit my driving style but I do feel like it has a great amount of poten­tial. As always we will have to see what qual­i­fying and the race brings in regard to compet­i­tive­ness but I feel very posi­tive about where Honda is with the engine.”

I think HPD (Honda Perfor­mance Devel­op­ment) has done a really good job,” added Pappas. ‘We haven’t had any issues since we’ve run it. Barber was obvi­ously the first test where everyone was together and the Honda’s certainly looked to be just as strong as the Chevrolets.”



I think it has been very good. I have been able to under­stand Graham and his needs. I think we have resolved a lot of the issues he was having last year. We have gone down, and looked at, some different paths to try to opti­mize the package better than what we’ve had in the past from where he was before. So all in all I think we’ve had a good series of tests. For St. Pete, you need a lot of overall grip. If you can reduce under­steer, I think you will have a fast car. That’s what the drivers seem to complain about there when you talk to everyone after the weekend.”



In 2013, Bobby Rahal provided race strategy infor­ma­tion over the radio to Graham. In 2014, Crew Chief Mitch Davis will take over that role and work with race engi­neer Bill Pappas, who will manage race strategy.  Davis handled this role at Auto Club Speedway while Bobby Rahal was at Petit Le Mans with the team’s sport car program.

It will be different for sure, but I think it will all work really well,” said Graham about the change. “I am excited to have Bill and Mitch with us, I think they add a lot to this team and we should see some great results in our future.”



The 10-grid-spot penalty levied on an entry whose engine was changed before it met the mileage threshold or surpassed the mandated number of engines for the season has been removed. Instead, 10 points will be deducted from the manufacturer’s total for each occur­rence. Entrant-initiated engine change-outs will result in the loss of 10 driver and entrant points. An unap­proved engine change-out by an entry will result in it starting from the rear of the grid in the next race. No engine change-out grid penal­ties will be served during the Indi­anapolis 500. Penal­ties carried over into or earned at the Indi­anapolis 500 will be served at the subse­quent race. Graham thinks this is a posi­tive change.

Its great for the teams, Honda has done a great job but the teams some­times were penal­ized for things out of our control,” said Rahal. “Like I have expe­ri­enced before when you qualify well but get moved to the back on some of these street courses it makes life diffi­cult, so I think this was a great move by the series.”

I think that it’s great,” added Pappas. “I don’t think the team should be penal­ized for manu­fac­turer issues whether its reli­a­bility or pushing the enve­lope that leads to failing engines. It’s good that the teams will no longer be penal­ized in that situation.”



Verizon IndyCar Series teams will benefit from new regu­la­tions regarding Fire­stone tire allot­ment written into the 2014 series rule­book. Each entry will receive credit for new tires remaining from its race event allot­ment.  After a street course event, one set of new primary tires remaining may be carried forward to a future street course event and added to the entry’s allot­ment.  Any remaining new tires from an entry’s event allot­ment may be added to the entry’s test allot­ment. Remaining new sets of alter­nate tires will be returned to the entrant as primary tires. Each entry is permitted a total of 54 sets of tires (primary or wet) for their 18 test days through the end of the season, and the carry­over tires must be the correct spec­i­fi­ca­tion for the circuit.

Another great idea to add a new mix to the series,” said Rahal. “I don’t know how much it will change things as that’s more of an engi­neering ques­tion, but all in all I think it’s an inter­esting idea.”

I think it is a great idea,” added Pappas. “You want to use all of the tires on a race weekend but unfor­tu­nate circum­stances will allow us to carry tires over from a place like St. Pete (street course) to Long Beach (street course). If you don’t use all your tires, you get an extra couple of sets to try to run more laps in that first session of the next similar event so it should be helpful for all the teams.”