Rahal, Sato and Pigot Ready for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Rahal Letterman Lanigan RacingPre-Race Notes
GMR Grand Prix – Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
Round 2 of 14 in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES

DATE:           Friday – Saturday, July 3-4, 2020
PRACTICE BROADCAST:           Live on NBC Sports Gold, on Friday from 11:30 – 1 p.m ET.  Also live on the INDYCAR Radio Network (IRN) and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis).
QUALIFYING BROADCAST:           Live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 4:30 – 5:45 p.m. ET on Friday, July 3. Also live on the IRN and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis).
RACE BROADCAST:           Live Saturday, July 4 beginning at 12 p.m. ET on NBC, NBC Sports Gold and the IRN. Coverage will also air on Sirius 211 and XM 205. 
TRACK LAYOUT:           2.439-mile, 14-turn road course
RACE LENGTH:           80 laps / 195 miles (5 laps less than previous races)
2019 WINNER:           Simon Pagenaud
2019 POLESITTER:           Felix Rosenqvist (1:08.2785; 128.597 mph)
RLL TOP START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):           7th by Rahal in 2019 / 2nd by Rahal in 2015; six events
RAHAL’S BEST START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):           7th in 2019 (qualified 3rd in 2016 but DQ’d) / 2nd in 2015; six events
RAHAL’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:           3 poles – Pole at St. Pete (street) 2009, Kansas (oval) 2009, Detroit Race 1 (street) 2017 / 6 wins – 1st in St. Pete in 2008, Fontana & Mid-Ohio 2015, Texas 2016, Detroit Race 1 & Race 2 2017
SATO’S BEST START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):           11th in 2018-2019 (RLL) / 9th in 2017 with AA; six events
SATO’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:           9 Poles – Iowa (oval) 2011, Edmonton (street) 2011, Houston Race 1 (street) 2013, St. Pete (street) 2014, Detroit Dual 2 (street) 2014, Detroit Dual 2 2017, Pocono (oval) 2017, Barber (road) 2019, Texas (oval) 2019 / 5 Wins – Long Beach (2013), Indianapolis 500 (2017), Portland (road) 2018, Barber 2019, St. Louis (oval) 2019

PIGOT’S BEST START / FINISH AT IMS (ROAD):           9th in 2018 / 5th in 2019 – both with Ed Carpenter Racing; four events
PIGOT’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:           3rd at Indianapolis (oval) 2019 / 2nd at Iowa (oval) 2018
The GMR Grand Prix (GMRGP) will mark the team’s seventh NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on the 2.439-mile road course.  The team’s highest finish is second by Graham Rahal in 2015 and he also brought their highest start of seventh in 2019. In addition to Rahal (2014-2019) and Sato (2018-2019), other drivers that have competed for the team here include Spencer Pigot (2016) and Oriol Servia (2014).  For 2020, RLL has entered the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda for Graham Rahal, the No. 30 Panasonic / One Cure Honda for Takuma Sato and the No. 45 Mi-Jack / Shield Cleansers Honda for Spencer Pigot, entered by RLL with Citrone/Buhl Autosport.
The 2020 GMRGP will be Graham Rahal’s seventh Indy car race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His highest finish here is second place and his highest start is seventh in 2019 although he qualified third in 2016 but his car was disqualified for being underweight. Last year changing weather conditions provided an extra challenge as heavy sprinkles fell as the race started. Rahal passed Power on the start for sixth and held the position through a caution for Ericsson. On the restart, Harvey and Herta came into contact and Rahal passed for fifth on Lap 16.  Pigot passed him on Lap 22. As drivers began to pit, he cycled into the lead by Lap 27 before he made his first stop on Lap 28. He returned to the track in 13th and had a brief “moment” when he had his right tires in the grass but gradually moved back up to seventh by Lap 40 and into fifth by Lap 43. He passed Pigot on Lap 46 for fourth and then the top three pit which put him in the lead on Lap 47 for three laps. He made his second stop on Lap 50 and was out on alternate tires. As the rain picked up, Kanaan became the first driver to opt for rain tires. His lap times were much slower than the field so most elected to stay on slicks when they had to pit for fuel. Castroneves forced the issue on tire choice when he spun on his out lap on rain tires but got stuck on course and brought out a caution. The rain picked up so when the pits opened on Lap 63 of 85, those other than the seven cars on rain tires, elected to pit for them including Rahal and teammate Sato. He returned to the track in seventh and held that position until the final lap when Power and Rosenqvist passed him.  He is looking forward to racing on a road course for the first time in nine months.
               “I feel with the work on the simulator and everywhere else that we’ve developed, our team has done a great job and prepared us for this weekend. It’s exciting to get back, and I’m thrilled to be getting going for the next few months.  I imagine it will be a lot hotter now than it would have been (racing here) in May. It will test the drivers with everything we’ve had going on, limited-to-no time on track in these cars with the Aeroscreen and everything else. It will be a challenge for us all and the Fifth Third Bank team hopes to rise to the occasion.” 
The 2020 GMRGP will be the seventh race here on the road course for Sato, winner of the 2017 Indy 500. His best start is 11th in 2018 and his best finish is ninth in 2017 with Andretti Autosport.  Last year Sato got boxed in on the start during heavy sprinkles on track and dropped from his 11th-place start to 16th.  He passed Hunter-Reay and Castroneves before he took over P13 on Lap 10 when Ericsson brought out a caution. On the restart, he got one position when Herta was spun and he passed Ferrucci for 10th.  He passed Power and Bourdais on Lap 20 for eighth place but was repassed by Bourdais on Lap 22.  As the pit cycle started, he climbed as high as fourth before he pit on Lap 28. He returned to the track in 14th and climbed back into eighth by Lap 40.  As some drivers who were on a different pit strategy made stops, he moved up to second by Lap 50 before his second stop for slick tires. Kanaan was the first driver to pit for rain tires on his stop on Lap 54.  The team monitored his lap times as well as the weather and when Castroneves brought out the caution when he returned to the track on rain tires, all teams not on rain tires waited until the pits opened on Lap 63 to get them. Sato spun in the slick conditions once back on track and dropped back to 16th.  He gained two spots from O’Ward and Hinchcliffe before the checkered flag. The short amount of time between his crash in qualifying at Texas in June and race time didn’t allow the team enough time to repair his race car so the GMRGP will be his first race of the season.  He is looking forward to the opportunity to take the green flag and catch up on the points he missed out on.
            “It’s very important to maximize the potential of five races in three weeks but we need to do our best every weekend, no matter the circumstance. It will be hard for everyone at the team as its consecutive weekends but hopefully we will be in great shape for every race. I think the biggest challenge of the GMR Grand Prix will be how we deal with just a single practice session before qualifying. It’s a 90-minute session but we don’t have time for analyzing data between sessions and if you need to change a suspension geometry or make some big change then we lose a lot of time.  It’s very limited on track time.”
As announced in February, Spencer Pigot, who made three starts for RLL in 2016, will be making his return to the team at the GMRGP in a car entered by RLL with Citrone/Buhl Autosport (CBA). Two of the three races with the team in 2016 were at IMS as they will be in 2020. In Pigot’s four Indy car races on the IMS road course, his best start is ninth in 2018 and best finish is fifth in 2019 – both with Ed Carpenter Racing. After months of planning and preparation with the team, he is excited to get back on track at IMS.
               “I’ve been going to the shop about three days a week, getting to know all the crew members better, get comfortable in the car, practicing pit stops, etc. I’ve been on the phone with my engineer on a regular basis as well going over some setup ideas and trying to plan out the weekend. We aren’t allowed inside the track until the morning of practice so we are trying to prepare as much as possible before we get to the speedway. The fact that the race was rescheduled will definitely help me a bit. Instead of the GMR Grand Prix being almost mid season, it’s the first road course race of the year so everyone will be trying to get comfortable again. Having said that, I think I’m the only driver that has no experience with the Aeroscreen so that will be a big difference. I’ve talked to a lot of drivers and they say it doesn’t take too long to get used to. Hopefully that will be the case for me on Friday.”

The GMR Grand Prix at IMS will be the first road course race of the season and the first with the Aeroscreen.  A pre-season test took place with the full field at Circuit of the Americas in February but inclement weather limited testing therefore the team has relied on data obtained on the Honda simulator.  
               “There will be a lot of racing in the next three weeks but we’re prepared.  Physically I feel good, rested and ready. I think the team is ready as well, and we’ve always seen that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing rises up in the toughest of times and I think that will continue. It’s very hard to apply anything we got from the COTA test since it was very limited due to conditions. We’re really relying on what we’ve learned in the sim and hoping it will translate nicely for us.  The sim work was great. We found some huge improvements over our old setups, found a good lap time and really put ourselves in a better spot. Now the question remains, how will that translate to the track. We will find out shortly.” 
“It’s challenging for sure, not to have had on track testing as well as very limited access to the simulator too. Sure, we rely on data but that has always been the case and not much difference since we are just lacking the current cars data as there has been no actual running for a long time. The team is preparing everything they can and we hope all the analysis we’ve done leads to a great performance on the track. (On whether having input from a third driver this weekend is a benefit:) Definitely, especially due to limited track time. Spencer has been very competitive in the series so it will be a great addition for entire team to move forward.”
“It will be great to work with Graham and Takuma this weekend. They are two of the top drivers in INDYCAR so being able to compare data and discuss car changes with them will be very helpful. With their only being one practice session, having three cars within one team will allow us to try more changes to make the best decisions before qualifying. The last time I was teammates with Graham I was very new to INDYCAR. I was still learning what I needed from the car so I’m not sure if we will prefer similar setups or not this time around. I think everyone at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Citrone/Buhl Autosport is expecting us to be competitive. We have a great group of people that have been working very hard over the off season and leading up to this race. It’s not going to be easy, there are so many good teams and drivers in INDYCAR but I’m confident we will be able to have a strong showing.” 

This weekend marks the first time that the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series will compete on the same track, over the same weekend. Rahal is looking forward to the historic weekend.
               “It’s monumental. It’s a shame we will not have fans in attendance to see it all with us, but this is a great weekend for motorsports and I’m excited to see what this can do for us in the future.” 
“I’ve been training a lot leading up to this weekend. I’ve been doing more workouts outside in the heat trying to prepare for the weather and the aeroscreen. At Pit Fit Training, we’ve also been adding in some time in the sauna to our workouts to help get acclimated to the conditions we expect.”
“It’s going to be a challenging weekend. The IMS road course is always pretty tricky. There are some technical sections with corners right on top of each other so you have to be very accurate because one small mistake can affect three or four corners rather than just one. We don’t know how the track will change following the NASCAR rubber that will go down before qualifying. We will try our best to predict what will happen but it’s going to be important to be able to react and make adjustments inside the car to get the most out of it. The track temperature will most likely be much higher than we have experienced at this track before. Typically, the rubber that is laid down on a track becomes more slippery with higher temperatures but as this track isn’t used very often it might not affect it as much. The biggest change for me might be inside the cockpit with it being a hot day and my first race with the Aeroscreen.”