New cars in ALMS, new drivers and team expansion in IndyCar - the offseason has been intense for everyone at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
A lot always goes on in the offseason, and this year has been no different. Suddenly we're less than a month away from both our seasons starting, with our first tests of the year in the books. So the energy and urgency is increasing. It's about finding the caliber of people you need to do your jobs properly. There's a lot of taking what you learned from the previous year and also searching for new sponsors.
On the IndyCar side, we now go back to two cars, and we have Mike Conway joining us at Long Beach. We're taking apart all the data and things we learned from the previous season and understanding what we did, and why we did it. We ask whether it was the right thing to do at the time. Now we have two new drivers, and the trick is to understand what they want in their cars.
For Graham, having been with Newman/Haas and Ganassi before this, he has a pretty good idea of what he wants from the car. There's a lot of communication with his engineer Gerry Hughes and the crew back-and-forth. They are working to understand each other's approach.
But also, we have brought a lot of new people into the team. I don't think there's any question that with the people who have joined this team, we could put them up against anybody.
I think our first test at Sebring went very well. Some teams had the 2013 spec engines, and some teams didn't. We didn't have the latest spec, but we made some real progress in getting a car that Graham wants. We're not that far off, but more importantly he and Gerry were able to continue to create the understanding (of each other) they will need to be successful together.
It's only one day, and there's only a certain number of things you can try, and it's a test. We don't race at Sebring, so times are somewhat irrelevant to be honest.
At the end of the day we know we made some decent progress in his understanding of the car. Generally there was better communication from everybody, their first time together. We hit all the goals we had for that test and left fairly positive.
With James Jakes, I think he is one of those guys who has shown he can run fast laps, but obviously he hasn't been able to make that more than just a few. We have a new hired crew for that car, which I'm very proud of, with Eddie Jones leading the engineering side on his car. I think he could do quite well.
Based on the things we've seen previous to this, I think this is his best opportunity and the pressure is on him now to a large extent, but we're also going to make sure he has a quality effort. Of course the jury is still out, the proof in the pudding – pick your cliché – but there's enough to make us think there is some potential, and he has the opportunity to maximize it.
We've been busy on the sports car side, as well. I'm very excited about our new BMW Z4. I think it's more in line with what the competition has now, and should be closer to the Ferrari and the Corvette.
The M3 was a great car; that was obvious by its record. However it was a bigger car than the competition and that created handicaps over time. But having said that, it was a very good handling car and we were able to overcome the differential.
The first test wasn't in Sebring – there were some tests in Europe with the car – but Sebring is Sebring and for us that's the most important race of the year. We've won there the last two years. We had a good test. I'm not going to say there weren't some issues. But that's why we do the test, to understand what we have and sort the car out.
I would say the primary systems performed well. The driver feedback was pretty good about the handling. It has some good characteristics compared to the M3. There were a lot of positives to come out of it. Like anything with a new car, you're trying to make it bulletproof. But overwhelmingly the reliability was pretty darn good. That's what you need for the race.
I'm also really pleased with our switch to Michelin tires. I think from our first test, the car seems really suited to the Michelin tire, and that's a really good thing. When I went to Jaguar in Formula 1 (in 2001), we were one of the first Michelin teams. So I got to know Pierre Dupasquier and the Michelin people way back then, and they are a very impressive group.
We may not have an advantage – I think with the Dunlops we did at times – but I know we won't have a disadvantage. The reason I say that is because when you have a tire that's exclusive to yourself, that can be very, very good. The tire could be better than everyone else. But if it's not the tire to have that day, it's a real struggle. Still, we had always more good days than bad with Dunlop.
By being with Michelin now, as most others are, you don't worry about concerns. The tire is what it is. The car works with the Michelins, and we were really pleased with it.
We have two new drivers as well in Maxime Martin and John Edwards. Maxime comes to us very highly recommended, from his GT3 performances. From what we've seen so far, he has already been a real asset to us. That's the same for John. I think he's a very good young driver with a good future ahead of him. We'd like him to have it with us.
Both of them will push their more senior teammates over time, but that's good. Bill (Auberlen), Joey (Hand) and Dirk (Mueller) can provide these guys perspective and advice which will make them that much better. I think we have a very good driver lineup.
Lastly, yes, I think Danica Patrick did a very good job in the Daytona 500. I'm not sure quite what happened on the last restart with her, but I think she did well. I think if you ask her she's probably disappointed she didn't finish as high as she had been running near the end of the race.
Daytona is a very different animal from Phoenix, or Bristol, or Atlanta or any other track. But in Daytona, she didn't make any mistakes, drove competitively, and had a good car. All in all she did a good job.
Thanks for reading.
Bobby Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing competes with Graham Rahal in the No. 15 and James Jakes in the No. 16 Dallara-Hondas in the IZOD IndyCar Series and with two BMW Z4s in the American Le Mans Series. To learn more about the team, go to www.rahal.com. Rahal is also on Twitter at @BobRahal.