Graham Rahal Aims to Carry Momentum from Recent Years to 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Season and Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Opener

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Pre-Race Notes

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

Round 1 of 17 in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series

 

DATE:

Friday – Sunday, March 10-12, 2017

QUALIFYING BROADCAST:      

Live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (AAPIRN) and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis)

RACE BROADCAST:

Live on ABC, Sunday, March 12 at 12:00 p.m. ET

RADIO BROADCAST:

The race will air on the AAPIRN, Sirius 212, XM 209 and www.indycar.com, and on the

INDYCAR mobile app

 

TRACK LAYOUT:

1.8-mile, 14-turn street course

RACE LENGTH:

110 laps / 198 miles

2016 WINNER:                                 

Juan Pablo Montoya

2016 POLESITTER:                       

Will Power (1:00.240; 107.561 mph)

 

RLLR TOP START/FINISH AT ST. PETE:                    

6th by Hunter-Reay in 2008 (led 4) / 5th by Meira in 2005; will be 10th event

 

RAHAL’S BEST START/FINISH IN ST. PETE:

1st in 2009 / 1st in 2008 – both with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing; will be his 10th race here

RAHAL’S HIGHEST SERIES START/FINISH:

Pole at St. Pete (street) 2009 & Kansas (oval) 2009 / 1st in St. Pete in 2008, Fontana & Mid-

Ohio 2015, Texas 2016

 

NEWS & NOTES:

RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING AT ST. PETE

The 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 10th IndyCar Series race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) in St. Petersburg. RLLR has entered the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake entry for Graham Rahal. The team 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 (2013-2016), James Jakes (2013) and Spencer Pigot (2016) prior to this year. The team led 11 laps with Takuma Sato in 2012 and four laps with Hunter-Reay in 2008 (G. Rahal won w/NHLR) and 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. Graham Rahal started seventh here last year.

GRAHAM AND HIS HISTORY-MAKING APPEARANCES IN ST. PETE

In 2017, Graham will make his 10th Indy car start at this track. His best start here is pole in 2009 and best finish is a win in 2008 in his IndyCar Series debut – both history-making moments (more info below).  In 2016, Graham qualified seventh but started sixth after pole sitter Will Power was replaced by Oriol Servia due to a mild concussion and Servia started from the back of the field.  After a mid-race return to Green, Rahal was running eighth, but sixth on the same fuel strategy, when Carlos Munoz dove into Turn 4 on Lap 57/110 and hit him from behind which set off a pileup of more than eight cars that blocked the turn.  Once he was restarted, he had to pit for a new front and rear wing and ran 21st. Munoz was penalized for “avoidable contact.” Rahal moved up to a 16th place finish. In 2015, he started 15th and gained three spots on the first lap and ran as high as fifth place midway through the race but was penalized for “avoidable contact” after he made contact while trying to pass the damaged car of Charlie Kimball. He dropped to the back of the field and ultimately finished 11th. In 2014, the start of qualifying was delayed over three hours after an afternoon storm. Rahal was in Group 1 that ran on a wet track on rain tires. Conditions improved as each of the three rounds took place and teams switched to “slick” tires. Rahal lost control of the car on the slick course and made contact with a tire barrier which brought out a red flag. His two fastest laps were omitted, one of which was sixth fastest and would have allowed him to progress to Round 2 and start in the top-12.  On the opening lap, Rahal charged from his 21st place starting spot to 12th and was in 14th when he made his first pit stop. Different pit strategies played out in a race that saw only 10 caution laps of 110 total. In the closing laps of the race, Rahal was 13th but lost a position to Bourdais with two laps to go and finished 14th. 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 in 2008 he qualified ninth, led 19 laps and won in his series debut at the age of 19 years, 93 days old. He is looking forward to starting off the season strong to build momentum and be a title contender at season’s end like he was in 2015.

“St. Pete has been good and bad for me.  After getting the win my first year here, I came back and got pole but there have been ups and downs since then.  We’ve had times when we’ve been really strong a St. Pete and we’ve had times when we’ve struggled. Last year is an indication of that.  We qualified well, and we ran up front in the race until we got punted. The year before, we had a phenomenal car — a really, really good car actually — and were working our way through but I had a little bit of contact with Kimball, who was having a problem, and got penalized for a nothing scenario.  In 2013 we were running good but then had an electrical problem.  We need to work hard to maximize what we have, and work hard to start off this season really good because if we want to be champions, it has to start at St. Pete.”

RAHAL ON RACING IN ST. PETE, ITS CHALLENGES AND A NEW START

After a win, four podiums and eight, top-five finishes in 16 races in 2016, Rahal finished fifth in series standings. The season before that he was a title contender from a second-place rank entering the season finale and finished fourth overall in series standings. Both years he was the top-finishing Honda-powered driver.  He hopes to get his 2017 campaign off to the right start with a strong finish on the newly-paved St. Pete street course.

“St. Petersburg is definitely one of my favorites of the entire year and a great place to kick off the season. It will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s where I got my first win and my first pole position. One of the main challenges for St. Pete this year is that we don’t know what we’re going to get because it’s been repaved so it’s going to be a whole different situation. I’m ready to go, ready to get behind the wheel of the Steak ‘n Shake Honda! It’s been a long off season. There’s always a lot of build-up so by the time March finally rolls around, no one can wait to get started. I’m just ready to get out there, get the wheels turning and get going. I’ll be the first to say it’s been a busy off season.  We’ve done a lot, gotten through a lot of meetings and great sponsor pitches and everything else but it’s time to go racing and I can’t wait.”

GRAHAM ON CHANGES FROM 2016 TO 2017

“We’ve tried to keep the consistency and create stability in terms of the team. We had one mechanic leave but we’ve replaced him with a couple of really young guys that I think are going to be great additions to our program.  The engineering department is pretty much as it has been. We have added Tom (German), who I think will be a great addition to what we have been doing. He’s been able to confirm a lot of the things we have done and let us know if we’ve been headed down the right path or not, which has been great. Tom is a great addition but there is a lot of work still to be done.  Our guys are working hard to try to stay ahead of the curve.  The competition is only going to get tougher so we need to be on top of our game. Everyone is working very hard to put our team in the best position for success this year. IndyCar racing nowadays is extremely tough but I think a guy like Tom really does bring a wealth of experience from many other organizations. Other than that we aren’t changing anything. We’ve got a great group and there is no reason to fix what isn’t broken so to speak.  Everyone is ready to go racing, everyone is determined and excited to get on track.”

-RLLR-