Rahal, Sato and Askew Return to Laguna Seca – the Site of the Team’s Most Success – for the Firestone GP of Monterey

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey – WeatherTech Raceway Laguna SecaPre-Race Notes
Round 15 of 16 in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES

DATE:     September 17-19, 2021

PRACTICE BROADCAST:     Live on Peacock Premium on Friday from 5:30 – 6:15 p.m. ET, Saturday from 1:45 – 2:30 p.m. ET and Sunday from 12:00 – 12:30 p.m. ET.  Also live on the INDYCAR Radio Network (IRN) and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis).

QUALIFYING BROADCAST:     Live on Peacock Premium, the IRN and www.indycar.com (timing & scoring + live analysis) from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

RACE BROADCAST:     Live on NBC Sunday, September 19 from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET. And also on Peacock Premium, IRN, Sirius 211 and XM 205

TRACK LAYOUT:     2.258-mile, 11-turn road course
RACE LENGTH:     95 laps / 214.51 miles

PREVIOUS WINNER:     Colton Herta in 2019

PREVIOUS POLESITTER:     Colton Herta in 2019 (1:10.1405 / 114.867 mph) 

RAHAL’S BEST LAGUNA SECA START / FINISH:     8th / 12th – both in 2019; will be his second INDYCAR race here
RAHAL’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:     3 Poles – St. Pete (street) 2009, Kansas (oval) 2009, Detroit (street) 2017 / 6 Wins – St. Pete 2008, Fontana (oval; 500 miles) 2015, Mid-Ohio (road) 2015, Texas (oval) 2016; Detroit Race 1 2017, Detroit Race 2 2017

SATO’S BEST LAGUNA SECA START / FINISH:     16th / 21st – both in 2019; will be his second INDYCAR race here
SATO’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:     10 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, Gateway (oval) 2020 – Race 2 / 6 Wins – Long Beach (2013), Indianapolis 500 (2017), Portland (road) 2018, Barber 2019, Gateway (oval) 2019, Indianapolis 500 (2020)

ASKEW’S BEST LAGUNA SECA START / FINISH:     First INDYCAR race at the track. Competed here in Indy Lights in 2019 where he finished 4th in Race 1 and 2nd in Race 2. Also won the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship shootout here in 2016.
ASKEW’S HIGHEST SERIES START / FINISH:     5th at the Indianapolis GP (road) 2020 / 3rd at Iowa Speedway (Race 1) 2020

RLL’S HIGHEST LAGUNA INDYCAR START / FINISH:     3 Indy car Poles – 1997-1999 (Herta) / 3 Indy car Wins – 1998-1999 (Herta), 2001 (Papis) / 6 Indy car Podiums
RLL’S HIGHEST LAGUNA IMSA START / FINISH:     3 IMSA Poles – 2011, ‘15, ‘19 / 3 IMSA Wins – 2015, ‘17, ‘18 / 10 IMSA Podiums


The 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will mark the 14th Indy car event for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and second here since 12 consecutive races at the track from 1992-2003. The team has also competed in ALMS and IMSA races here from 2009-2020 as BMW Team RLL and has earned three wins, three poles and a total of 10 podium finishes to date – including pole and a second-place finish in 2019.  The Indy car team has earned three wins, three poles and a total of six podiums (1st – Herta 1998-1999; Papis 2001; 2nd – Herta 1996; 3rd: B. Rahal 1992, Papis 1999) including three straight pole positions (Herta 1997-1999).  Prior to the 2021 event, the team prepared a total of 23 Indy car entries for drivers Bobby Rahal (1992-98), Mike Groff (1994), Raul Boesel (1995), Bryan Herta (1996-99), Max Papis (1999-2001), Jimmy Vasser (2002), Michel Jourdain Jr. (2002-03), Graham Rahal (2019) and Takuma Sato (2019). The No. 15 United Rentals entry for Graham Rahal, No. 30 Panasonic / Mi-Jack entry for Takuma Sato and No. 45 Hy-Vee entry for Oliver Askew will bring the Indy car total to 26 entries in 2021.

The 2021 race will mark the second for Graham Rahal at the track. In 2019, he started eighth and lost two positions on the start to Hunter-Reay and Ferrucci. He dropped to 11th on Lap 5 when Rosenqvist passed him and cycled as high as fifth place before his second pit stop on Lap 39. He ran 10th for the majority of his next stint before his third and final stop and came out 11th. He later lost a position to Hunter-Reay on Lap 68 of 90 and ultimately took the checkered flag 12th. He enjoys returning to the site of much success for his father, Bobby Rahal.
            “I have always loved going to Laguna Seca. It’s a tremendous race track that suits our cars and a community that supports our series, which we’re all grateful for. It is a spectacular place to go race. Obviously, Monterey County, Carmel and the surrounding areas are a beautiful part of the world. Its always great to go up the Rahal Straight and always great to hear about how much success my dad had there. Obviously, it would be great to have some myself so hopefully we can make that happen.
            “Testing (in July) was good but what we found at the Indy GP translated well to Portland and I’m hopeful that it’s going to translate really well as we go into Laguna Seca this time around. Testing is always valid but I think that we’ve been able to find things after testing that will be able to help us a little bit more. We’ll just have to wait and see on Friday.”

The event will be Takuma’s second at the course. In 2019, he started 16th and was later running in 11th place when a caution came out for contact between Daly and Andretti on Lap 45. After the restart, Sato was hit by Ferrucci, who served a penalty for avoidable contact in Turn 2, and dropped to 21st place. Based on the positions that drivers were running in at the season finale, he was still on target to finish the season sixth in points. He moved up to 19th but later pit to check for damage to the race car from the previous incident that impacted the steering. He continued to race in an attempt to salvage points and took the checkered flag in 21st place but lost three positions in the series standings due to the double points race. This year, it is the penultimate event in the championship as well as the final road course race. Sato is looking forward to the return.
           “Laguna Seca is an iconic road course – not just in North America but in the world. I think everybody knows that Laguna Seca is such a challenging track. It’s a beautiful track with lots of high-speed flowing corners with unbelievable elevation changes where the one corner — the corkscrew — goes downhill with massive elevation change. Virtually we can’t see anything while braking before turning so it’s incredibly challenging. But also, it’s hugely demanding for the technical side too, for the engineering perspective it’s difficult to get the car well balanced through the medium speed, high speed, and low speed areas. We need a good front end, as well as a high stability on the rear too so it gives us heavy braking while cornering. It’s quite challenging, but it’s one of the most beautiful tracks. I’ve only raced there once in the past, and we had a little issue so it didn’t go well – but certainly I enjoyed the race, and of course we missed it in 2020. I’m very much looking forward to getting back to Laguna and the Monterrey area is just a beautiful area. Great wines, great food, and we will have lots and lots of guests come over to enjoy and be part of the racing. I’m sure they will enjoy the weekend. It’s the last road course race for us and it’s going to be a quite-tight field. The team had a successful test in the mid-season, and hopefully that turns out and we will be very competitive. I’m looking forward to being back in the car and get ready for the big one in Laguna Seca.”

Oliver Askew will make his second start with the team at Laguna Seca. He earned a top-10 start at Portland of ninth place but was involved in a Lap 1 incident and was later hit from behind and retired from the event. The Firestone Grand Prix of Laguna Seca will be a three-day event which will allow more time to analyze data and preparation which will be good for Askew who will make his first start in an Indy car at the track. He previously competed in the Indy Lights races there in 2019 with a fourth place (Race 1) and second-place finish (Race 2) as well as won the shootout for the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship in 2016.  
            “I had some time to reflect on this past weekend’s event in Portland. I think there are a lot of positives to take away from this weekend. Obviously, it was my first race weekend with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in the Hy-Vee colors. It was a very exciting Saturday for us, qualifying in the top 10 and fighting for the fast six. It was good to have both Graham and I starting in the top 10 there. It was great working with this team, obviously a very experienced group both on the engineering side and with Taku and Graham. I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can from those two over the next two weekends. Unfortunately, the race didn’t pan out the way we wanted. It was my mistake there at the start which ultimately put us on the back foot but I’m looking forward to bouncing back from that this weekend in Laguna. I haven’t driven Laguna Seca in an Indy car, but I have had some experience there in the past both in Indy Lights in 2019, and from the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout in 2016. It’s a track that I’ve had success at, and it’s a very enjoyable track to drive. It’s not like many other tracks on the calendar. It can be very low grip with all the dust around it but I absolutely love that area in Monterrey, and I’m looking forward to welcoming a bunch of fans back at the track this weekend. I’m looking forward to another positive weekend with Rahal Letterman Lanigan.”

“I thought Oliver had a great weekend. Being that Takuma had the issues that he had, which is so unfortunate, I thought Oliver did a great job adjusting last weekend. Portland is a tough track. Its not easy to go out and be fast. I thought he did an excellent job.”  

Bobby Rahal captured his first major race win at Laguna Seca in the Can Am series in 1979 so it’s only fitting that the track has become the most successful for RLL overall as a team. After that Can Am win, Rahal went on to become the only driver to win four straight Indy car wins at the track from 1984-1987, the 1985 win coming from pole. A third place in 1992 brought him his fifth podium finish at the track. In terms of Indy car history at Laguna Seca, in 22 races from 1983-2004, the most wins other drivers have is two (Danny Sullivan 1988, 1990), Michael Andretti (1991-92), Paul Tracy (1993-94), Bryan Herta with RLL (1998-99), Patrick Carpentier (2003-04).

Heading into Round 15 in Monterey, Rahal is ranked seventh in series point standings with a total of 342.  He trails sixth place Colton Herta by six (348). Takuma Sato is 11th with 297.
            “We’re seventh in points and have a shot at sixth, which might be our ceiling this year based on the way the point standings look,” said Rahal. “I am very proud of that considering the tough go’s that we’ve had. If you look at the Indianapolis (500), Road America and even the bad luck we had at Portland, not finishing St. Louis and what happened at St. Pete (Rossi contact), when our bad, bad races are 10th or 11th place its not bad. We’ve been consistent but just haven’t gotten a win. I thought we were going to get that monkey off our back in Portland but it just didn’t happen but we will keep our heads down. If we can get to sixth, we can be proud. I’m just focused on what we need to do to be at our best.”