Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner and IndyCar legend Bobby Rahal will be blogging exclusively for RACER.com throughout the 2012 season. -Ed.
First off, it's great to be sharing these blogs all season on RACER.com. With both the IndyCar and American Le Mans Series seasons approaching, we're very hard at work in preparing and finalizing our packages.
With our IndyCar, we had our first test in a Honda manufacturer test at Sebring in mid-December, and felt pretty pleased with it, even though it was only for one day. That provided the first chance for our new driver Takuma Sato to work with Jay O'Connell, our technical director, and to get to know the car. Everyone was reasonably pleased with the first outing.
Just in the last few weeks, we went to Barber and then Sebring again, and we felt really good about Sebring in particular. It's a little difficult to read the competition, because everyone runs on different types of tire compounds and constructions. While it's difficult to compare times, you have a fairly good idea. We were quickest one day at Sebring, and the next we were only a tenth off.
Still, those two tests gave us the first chance to run our own car, and invariably, there are new car blues that you just don't expect. Fortunately for us, there was very little of that, and I have to give a lot of credit to our team manager Tom Anderson and crew chief Ricardo Nault, who made sure that anything bad was marginal. In the end, we ran a lot of miles, and Takuma feels positive about not just the car, but his association with us.
Now we go back to Sebring this week for the final test, with a few more things to try out. We'll be running Takuma's spare car to make sure there's no problems there. Everything came out from the first two tests as we had hoped, and realistically, a little bit better.
With Takuma, we're just getting to know him within the confines of our team. Up to this point, it's been quite positive. I think he's had what he probably would call a disappointing first two years in the series. He's shown real pace, but at other times he may have been lost, and that's no indictment – we've all been there and know what that feels like, and it's certainly frustrating, to be sure.
We're in the honeymoon phase – the discovery phase of who we are and what we can accomplish. My biggest goal for Takuma this year is to create a lot of consistency. We've seen his pace immediately, and we know he has that. We need to get to the end of the races without any drama, and it's very difficult to do.
I've watched him race for many years, going all the way back to when we were both in Europe, and he was on the Honda fast track at the time. The year he won the F3 championship, he won most of the races. The pace is there, and it's just a matter of bringing it home. We've really worked together to make sure that will happen.
As far as our second car and a teammate for Takuma, it will happen – as I'll get to in a minute – but not at the outset. Simply, we couldn't solidify the funding for the second one in time for St. Petersburg. We could have stretched that out and waited until the last minute, but then to not have the funding and have to come back and say, “Oh, we don't have it ready,” wouldn't have looked very professional, frankly.
We had to bite the bullet and face the reality and, at that point, it was easier for us to help Sarah Fisher in this case. I was very much for that. She was there for Graham at a time when he needed it (in 2010, for a handful of races at the start of the season -Ed.). I think she's just a great lady, and she, her husband Andy and those guys really work hard at it.
For me, it just seemed as though we needed to do this to help Sarah, and we'd put our second program together at a later date. Maybe we could have finalized it earlier, but I didn't want to take the risk, and it wouldn't have been the right thing to do.