Pre-Race Notes – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing


Round 1 of 16 in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series


DATE:                                   FridaySunday, March 27-29, 2015

QUALIFYING BROADCAST:       Live on the IMS Radio Network (timing & scoring + commentating)

RACE BROADCAST:                       Live on ABC, Sunday, March 29 at 3:00 p.m. ET

RADIO BROADCAST:                     The race will air on IMS Radio Network, XM 209 & Sirius 213

TRACK LAYOUT:                            1.8-mile, 14-turn street course

RACE LENGTH:                               110 laps / 198 miles

2014 WINNER:                  Will Power

2014 POLESITTER:                        Takuma Sato (1:01.8668; 104.738 mph)



FINISH AT ST. PETE:                     6th by Hunter-Reay in 2008 (led 4) / 5th by Meira in 2005; will be 7th event



FINISH IN ST. PETE:                      1st in 2009 / 1st in 2008; will be his eighth race here



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



The 2015 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the eighth IndyCar Series race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) in St. Petersburg. RLL has entered the No. 15 Mi-Jack 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 (2013-2014) and James Jakes (2013) 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.



The start of qualifying was delayed in 2014 for more that 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 installed racing “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.  Instead Ryan Briscoe advanced.  On the opening lap of the race, 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.



In 2015, Graham will compete in his eighth 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 races here, he started 21st in 2014 (details above) and finished 14th.  In 2013, he qualified 15th 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 four former previous race winners entered this year: James Hinchcliffe (2013), Helio Castroneves (2006, 2007 and 2012), Will Power (2010, 2014) and Graham Rahal (2008).



The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the competition debut of aerodynamic bodywork kits designed, manufactured and supplied by Chevrolet and Honda. Cars will be differentiated by their shape on the street course as the manufacturers have designed separate aero kit specifications for road and street course/short ovals and speedways for the Dallara IR-12 chassis. References to the cars will incorporate the name of the corresponding manufacturer.  After test sessions where Rahal and RLL were either the fastest Honda or near the top of the time sheets, Rahal is looking forward to the season-opener even more.

“I’m excited to race again in St. Petersburg,” said Rahal. “For me, St. Pete has always been one of the best tracks, one of the best places we go all year, a place that I just love. Because of the fact that I got my first win and my first pole there, it has always had a sweet spot in my heart. The town has always embraced the racing and I’ve enjoyed that. More than anything, I’m ready to just get this season going. It’s such a long off-season that I feel like we’re kind of behind.  The team has been doing such a great job and I’m just thrilled to get this thing going. I think its going to be a great year; I’m excited and ready to go.

“St. Pete is going to be interesting because it will be our first hard run with the new aero kits. The car seems to be handling everything pretty well; durability seems to be pretty good. At the end of the day, I think everybody is ready to get to St. Pete. Honda is ready to perform and I think we can lead the charge for them and hopefully do a great job. It’s going to be tough, tricky to see how this all plays out. We’re going to have to be very cautious of contact and make sure that we are staying clean and sharp. All in all, I’m really excited to get going.”


NEW FOR 2015

The first of three key appointments for the Verizon IndyCar Series program is Mike Talbott, who was most recently senior trackside engineer with Wirth Research in support of Honda Performance Development’s Indy car program and worked with Graham Rahal at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (NHLR) in 2008. Talbott leads the vehicle dynamics program.  Martin Pare, who was race engineer for Rahal at NHLR from 2009-2010 and at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2011-2012 is head of the vehicle ride control development program.  Derek Davidson moved from being chief mechanic to James Jakes (2013) and Oriol Servia (2014) to crew chief. Donny Stewart remains the chief mechanic for Graham Rahal on the No. 15 entry as he has been since 2013. In addition, team manager Ricardo Nault and race engineer Eddie Jones will relay race strategy information to Graham. Bobby Rahal provided that information in 2013 and 2014.



Manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda returned to the series in 2012. For the 2015 season, this extends to new aerodynamic configuration each manufacturer debuted recently.  Mike Talbott, who leads the vehicle dynamics program for RLL, is optimistic of the team’s progress with the aero kit.

“Since we received the data for the aero kit, we have been analyzing it in comparison to the old car to understand the differences between the last three years and 2015.  With the 2015 data we run simulations for each circuit to determine what we think is the best aero configuration.   Before arriving in St. Pete, we tested at NOLA, Barber, and Sebring.  Sebring will be the closest data to St. Pete so we will learn the most about the street course aero package there.  Certainly we are still on the very steep portion of the learning curve.  Heading into St. Pete, we will still be trying to optimize aero kit and the setup to maximize performance.

“The teams chosen by the two manufacturers to do the early testing certainly have an advantage.  If you look at the results from NOLA and Barber, the fastest  cars have mostly been the teams that did the development testing of the aero kits.  There is no doubt they have a big advantage.  However, that doesn’t change our expectations. At least for me personally, the rest of the engineers and certainly Graham, our intent is to go out and be on pole and fight for the win. That is certainly a lofty goal considering we are behind those teams in understanding the aero kit, but the nice thing about going to St. Pete is that it’s not a primarily aero-driven circuit.  Mechanical setup has a great deal to do with being competitive there and we have made big gains in that area and continue to work on that. I would expect us to be in the Fast Six and hopefully shooting for pole.”