There were a lot of highlights in April as we now head into the month of May. For starters, the RRDC dinner the Thursday night before Long Beach was just a great night. For me, the day I was inducted into the RRDC in 1980, was a huge deal because historically, it was always a “who's who” of road racing legends from around the world. I've always been very proud to be a member.
As we've tried to grow the club over the last five to 10 years, the creation of that event has really raised awareness of the club by many within the sport, and ties it into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend. It's been a real thrill to put on the event. We want it to be first class, and it's quickly becoming the place to be to kick off the weekend.
It's always interesting to hear the stories you wouldn't expect from these guys, and this year was no different listening to Jim Hall. I think a lot of people, myself included, were surprised how vocal and candid he was because Jim truly is a man of few words! I've known Jim for so many years, and revered him as a driver and engineer from watching him in Can-Am and the USRRC.
To hear some of the stories and hear him go on as he did, it was a side that few had ever seen of him. I think it could have gone on all night long, because he was having that much fun with it. It was great he shared so many stories, and great to have so many of his former drivers (Roger Penske, Johnny Rutherford, Gil de Ferran) to weigh in and give their perspective.
When we got through the rest of the weekend, we had some critical successes. With our BMW in ALMS, unfortunately both cars had incidents at the start, and the 55 got taken out of a position to do anything. The 56 car got punted by another car and had a flat tire. We'd gone from leading to dropping to about seventh or eighth, so we had to call a pretty aggressive strategy from there to come back.
I don't know if we were as fast as the leading Corvette anyway, but we were strong throughout, especially toward the end on the Dunlops, and we still finished second. It could have been a far worse outcome than it ended up, and some days you have to accept that as the best result you can get given the circumstances.
IndyCar ended as a big disappointment. We had to be so tight on fuel in order to make it. Then to be hit by Ryan Hunter-Reay... I like Ryan, and he's a good guy, but it was clear he'd pass Takuma [Sato] probably on the next straightaway, so I felt the contact was fairly unnecessary.
It took us from about fourth or fifth, to be honest, to eighth. It frustrates you when that happens because you can't get it back. You walk away feeling a little bitter, or certainly very frustrated. Takuma drove a fantastic race and did everything we asked him to do. You'd like to see better for him.
In Brazil we got that podium after all, but if Long Beach ended better we could have been even higher in the championship. We still have some sense of satisfaction in knowing we're running up front and are competitive in terms of pace.
It's clear Takuma is a driver. His passes at St. Pete, Long Beach, and especially his move from fifth to third on the restart at Brazil – the guy's a pure racer. He's not made any mistakes in the races, and that's one of the primary goals for us this year. It's clear he's fast, but if you looked at his past record, it's been a bit spotty from a results standpoint – many times, that's not been his fault. He's done a great job in the races, in terms of passing people and being a charger.
With Michel Jourdain for Indy, it's easy to forget how good his last year with us was. We'd had such a good year in 2003, where we won a couple races and frankly I felt could have won the championship, had there not been some odd calls made from the series administration that took other victories away – Australia, in particular. Given 2002 was where he started to come on, in 2003 he was one of the most dominant drivers; it was with a lot of sadness he didn't want to continue on.
We'd offered him a chance to come with us to the IRL for 2004, but he didn't really want to do that much of the ovals. He had a tough year at RuSPORT and then tried other things.
He's still so young, though. He's only a few months older than Sato. It shouldn't take him much time at all to get back in the saddle, and I think he has a number of good years left. We're hopeful this one race can grow into a full season in 2013. I have no doubts that if you're that good a driver, you rise to the occasion, and it shouldn't take long to get acclimated.
With the turbocharger news, you really only know what you read. It was heard before a panel of three guys and the decision came down that it was a legitimate change. It maybe made a little bit of a difference, but right now Chevy's still pretty strong. We need to continue to make new improvements on our end, because we know they'll push harder too in taking the gloves off. In the end, it might be better for the series because there's more advancements made, but the decision was that the change was allowable after all.
Lastly, I was asked by Dan Andersen to work on an IMS oval clinic to help answer some of our ladder series' drivers' questions. I almost wondered if they wanted me to talk to the parents, because these kids might not want to listen to an old man!
It's a bench racing session, a symposium of sorts, and it's always interesting to hear what they're asking about. I've always tried to give back to the sport, between hiring young American drivers or giving guys who might be considered “washed up” another chance – Buddy Rice and Michel Jourdain come to mind there. Between this, the RRDC and our SAFEisFAST program, you want to set an example and be there for the next generation. You never know if you might end up meeting a future Indianapolis 500 winner in this group.
As for now, we're off for the month of May. Thanks for reading.
Bobby Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing competes with Takuma Sato in the No. 15 Dallara-Honda in the IZOD IndyCar Series and with two BMW M3s in the American Le Mans Series. To learn more about the team, go to www.rahal.com. Rahal is also on Twitter at @BobRahal.