Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Pre-Race Notes

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – 22nd Season
Round 1 of 16 in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Serie 
DATE:                                               Friday – Sunday, March 22 – 24, 2013
QUALIFYING BROADCAST:           Live on NBC Sports Network at 2 p.m. ET Saturday, March 23; live on the IMS Radio Network and
                                                 (timing & scoring)
RACE BROADCAST:                       Live on NBC Sports Network, Sunday, March 24 at 12 p.m. ET
RADIO BROADCAST:                     The race will air on IMS Radio Network, XM 211 & Sirius 211
TRACK LAYOUT:                            1.8-mile, 14-turn street course
RACE LENGTH:                               110 laps / 198 miles
2012 WINNER:                                 Helio Castron­eves
2012 POLESITTER:                         Will Power (1:01.3721; 105.585 mph)
FINISH AT ST. PETE:                      6th by Hunter-Reay in 2008 (led 4) / 5th by Meira in 2005
FINISH IN ST. PETE:                      1st in 2009 / 1st in 2008; will be his sixth race here
START/FINISH:                                Pole at St. Pete 2009 & Kansas 2009 / 1st in St. Pete in 2008
FINISH IN ST. PETE:                       20th (2010 & ‘11) / 15th (2011); will be his third race here
STREET COURSE FINISH:            8th at Motegi (road) in 2011 / 8th at Toronto (street) in 2012
The 2013 Honda Grand Prix of St. Peters­burg will mark the sixth IndyCar Series race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) in St. Peters­burg. It will be the team’s first time to run full season, multiple-car programs since 2007 (Sharp and Simmons/Hunter-Reay) RLLR has entered the No. 15 Midas / Big O Tires car for Graham Rahal and the No. 16 Acorn Stair­lifts car for James Jakes to bring the team’s total to 10 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) and Takuma Sato (2012) here. The team led the race for four laps with Hunter-Reay in 2008 but a different Rahal – Graham – won the event.  In 2012, Sato led two times for a total of 11 laps but pitted from the lead for his final stop and suffered a mechan­ical failure that resulted in a 22nd place finish.  RLLR 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 became the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history when he drove to victory in his IndyCar Series (ICS) debut in St. Pete in 2008 at the age of 19 years and 93 days old with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR).  Rahal had only run 10 laps at testing speed in an ICS car on a road course (Sebring) due to a pre-race three hour test being cancelled due to rain.  During the St. Pete race weekend, he progressed to Group 2 in qual­i­fying for his debut on the street course in St. Pete but was unable to get a clear lap and qual­i­fied ninth.  The race began under caution while standing water was cleared and once the green flag flew he progressed up to third place before his first pit stop in a race that saw multiple pit strate­gies.  He was hit on Lap 37 by Will Power which caused a spin and he dropped to 23rd but the team elected to gamble and keep him on track while others pit on Lap 60 under caution and he moved into second before the restart on Lap 65. He took the lead and held it through two more restarts including one with three laps to go while holding off then two-time St. Pete winner Helio Castron­eves and Tony Kanaan.  He won by a 3.5 second margin to become the youngest winner in series history after he led a total of 19 of the 83 laps.
            “It was an inter­esting race with the weather going back and forth from rain and dry condi­tions,” recalled Rahal. “The condi­tions at the time really played to our advan­tage.  We weren’t neces­sarily the quickest in the dry so it made it a little bit easier for us to be on a level playing field with the rain. I felt like I had a good chance to finish well once we kind of got back on the same strategy with every­body else after being spun out. We restarted in second and once I got by (Ryan) Hunter-Reay I felt like I was pretty much in control. We had a late yellow but for most of the 19 laps we led, I had quite a gap (on second). I had pulled off quite a lead. On the late restart I got a good start – I locked up on the inside front going into Turn 1 — but gath­ered it up and just took off.  I got a bit of a lead from the guys behind me. It was certainly a really good day and one we hope to relive. On the last lap you are telling your­self ‘Hit all of your apex’s and don’t make any mistakes’ and fortu­nately we didn’t.”
“It was nice to win. Certainly there was a lot of pres­sure taken off my shoul­ders that day to get my first win. I didn’t expect it to take so many years to assume the same posi­tion but it felt really good at the time. Being on the “Late Show” was good too. Hope­fully it’s a good omen that we are going to be on the show this week; maybe that will be a sign of things to come. I wasn’t 21 yet so they didn’t let me spray cham­pagne on the podium so when I was on Dave’s show, he handed me a bottle of cham­pagne and ran. I was thinking ‘What do I do with this?’ So I just ran out toward the crowd and gave them all a cham­pagne shower. I kind of felt bad about that actu­ally. Anyone that’s been sprayed with cham­pagne before knows it’s not that nice. Dave sent me a bottle of Dom Pérignon with a message on it after the win that I have in my office – unopened of course – which is pretty cool.”
In 2013, Graham will compete in his sixth event here.  After his history-making win here in 2008, he won pole in 2009 with NHLR to become the youngest pole winner in series history.  He was hit from behind on the opening lap and finished seventh. He qual­i­fied 16th and finished 9th for Sarah Fisher Racing in 2010.  He qual­i­fied 11th in 2012 and finished 12th in 2012 and qual­i­fied 12th in 2011 and finished 17th – both for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing (SCCGR). He is one of five former previous race winners entered this year: Helio Castron­eves (2006, 2007 and 2012), Dario Fran­chitti (2011), Will Power (2010), Ryan Briscoe (2009) and Graham Rahal (2008).
            “The results the last two years were compro­mised by strategy,” said Rahal. “We have always been quick there. Last year we pitted a couple of times unnec­es­sarily, just to try to get on an alter­nate strategy and unfor­tu­nately it didn’t work out. The year before, for some reason we decided to save an impos­sible amount of fuel and I was lifting at the Start/Finish and it was frus­trating. Clearly it didn’t work out.”
The 2013 Honda Grand Prix of St. Pete will be the third race here for Orlando resi­dent James Jakes. He qual­i­fied 22nd and finished 15th in 2011 and qual­i­fied 20th and finished 26th in 2012 – both with Dale Coyne Racing.
             “I have always seemed to race well at St Pete, espe­cially in my first Indy car race there two years ago. Qual­i­fying has let me down in the past and it is always impor­tant to qualify high up there. I will be looking to improve that this year.  I think a top eight finish would be a posi­tive start to the year. We haven’t covered as many miles as the other teams in pre-season testing but we feel that we have a good package and should be well prepared heading into the race weekend.”
“St Pete is a great track, its one of my favorites on the calendar,” said Jakes. “You have to make sure you set the car up pretty posi­tive as you don’t really want to have any under­steer. The fast flowing chicane before the last corner is always fun and so is the quick right hander (3rd corner) at the start of the lap.”
               “The track has a mix of high and low speed corners with bumps in a lot of areas so it makes braking and every­thing pretty tricky,” added Rahal. “It’s pretty phys­ical; there aren’t a lot of areas to get much of a break which is pretty tough. But I think the bumps are prob­ably the biggest thing. It’s also pretty narrow in the back­stretch in partic­ular which makes it very easy to make a mistake.”
The 2013 season will mark the third for the Leeds, England native in the IZOD IndyCar Series. He made 31 starts for Dale Coyne Racing from 2011 – 2012 with his best series start of eighth place coming on the Motegi road course in 2011 and his best series finish of eighth coming on the Toronto street course in 2012. He began racing in 2002 in the British T-Car series so he has seen his share of “season-openers.”
            “Things can get a little crazy at the opening races of the season. This is normal in any race cate­gory really. I think when you have 26 drivers that haven’t raced in these cars for six months, you get a lot of antic­i­pa­tion that builds up and everyone just cannot wait to get out there.”
Jakes got behind the wheel of an Indy car for the first time since the 2012 season finale last Wednesday and set the ninth fastest time in the after­noon session and was 11th fastest over the two-day test (he only ran Wednesday). He is looking forward to more seat time this weekend.
            “Every­thing seems to be working very well. This is a new team for me so every­thing has been a new start, even learning everyone’s names. I think my engi­neer Eddie Jones and I have the basis of a great rela­tion­ship and we are looking forward to extracting the maximum out of each other. From my side, I just have to make sure my fitness is great and that I’m doing every­thing I can to main­tain it during the year.”
“Just about every­thing has happened since the conclu­sion of last season. We have different drivers, added engi­neers and mechanics, expanded the shop. We have done all of the things that go with expanding from a one car team to a two car team – you name it. There were a lot of changes and I think they are all for the better. Whether it’s having Graham and James with us full­time or whether it’s having all the great spon­sors that are with us, having more cars and strength­ening our engi­neering depart­ment, we have accom­plished a lot over the off season. There has been an influx of a lot of people including (chief mechanic) Donny Stewart from the Columbus team, (race engi­neer) Eddie Jones joined us and we have been able to hire very good mechanics and support staff.  On the busi­ness side, we’re excited about our part­ner­ship with Midas, Big O Tires and others from the TBC Retail Group, as well as Valvo­line, Norm Reeves Honda, Tran­Sys­tems, Battery Tender, blu eCigs, and Acorn Stair­lifts. A tremen­dous amount of work has happened since September and there are still things happening so it’s been a very busy off-season for the team. We are very opti­mistic about the season given all of the things that have happened since 2012.”
“We went from two cars last year to five now. We have three new cars on top of the two we had last year.  That allows us to run a third entry at Long Beach and possibly Indy. When we aren’t running the car as a race car, it’s a test car and that allows us to not disturb the work on the actual race cars to go testing and allows us to consider partic­i­pating in some tests between races. It’s a luxury in some respects but it’s also a much-needed luxury.  It also gives us the ability to respond to any situ­a­tion that might arise. I’m very pleased with the things we have done over the course of the winter in terms of preparing those cars.  It’s made more work for sure but it allows us to go forward on a much better footing than we had even last year.”
In the team’s return to full time Indy car compe­ti­tion at St. Pete last year, they led two times for a total of 11 laps with Takuma Sato but pitted from the lead for his final stop and discov­ered a mechan­ical failure that resulted in a 22nd place finish.  Bobby is opti­mistic of another compet­i­tive run for the team this year. 
                “I don’t see why we can’t run well at St. Pete again this year. Graham has won there and been on pole and I think he’s always performed well there so I don’t see why that should change. With James, and I think he prob­ably saw the differ­ence at this past test, there is a level of support and quality of people working with him now that he might not have had before. I don’t see any reason why he can’t be compet­i­tive in the race. We’re going into this weekend expecting to be compet­i­tive and that includes everyone in the team. I told them ‘You can’t expect to win, but you can expect to be compet­i­tive’ and that hasn’t changed. Our goal is to have two cars in the top-10 at the end of the year. I don’t think people really know what James is ulti­mately capable of because I don’t think he’s neces­sarily had the best oppor­tu­ni­ties but he will this year. He has shown that he can drive quickly. It’s just a matter of having consis­tency behind him. I will be disap­pointed if he doesn’t have a breakout season, rela­tively speaking. And the same holds true with Graham; the pres­sure is really on us to create the envi­ron­ment he needs to excel. He has been with very good teams prior to coming to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and has shown he can run up front. It’s about not making any mistake from our stand­point, having the right strategy and making sure that mechan­i­cally we are reli­able. I’m pretty confi­dent we can do all of that.”