BMW Team RLL's drivers, engineer and Bobby Rahal (RIGHT) conference at Sebring. (LAT photo)
Our seasons are now officially underway, with the 12 Hours of Sebring in the books and St. Petersburg this weekend. I think it went pretty well with the new BMW Z4. You don't know about any issues you may have until you go racing. In our 12-hour test, everything was fine. Unfortunately, come race day, some things happen such as the power steering and left strut issue on the car. It's unfortunate that we had those problems, but things were performing pretty well up to that point.
We certainly saw areas where we are competitive, and there are certain areas we aren't. We don't have the straightline speed yet, particularly of the Corvettes, Aston Martins or Porsches which are quite fast in a straight line. This is especially important in a place like Sebring with long straights; if nothing changes, in a place like Elkhart Lake we'll be struggling.
The only thing that kept us in the hunt, frankly, was the cornering capability and handling of the car, plus some good pit stops and good drivers. It all makes a difference in the end. This year with having Michelin tires, we can't say our (own) tire had an advantage anymore, because everyone is mostly on the same tires.
But, overall, I'd say I am pleased with the presentation of the cars. We put our best foot forward getting the car ready for the race. When I look at where we were with our first race at Sebring in '09, with the M3, we had one car that didn't start on grid, and the other one was gone within six hours. This was a much, much better debut than the M3 was!
I also thought our new drivers did a very good job. I worked with John Edwards (driving with Joey Hand and Dirk Muller) particularly on the No. 56, and was pleased with what he did. Maxime Martin and those guys on the No. 55 with Bill Auberlen and Jorg Muller didn't have power steering later on. So I was very pleased with how they fit in, and how they handled things.
Regarding the new series name and logo, I was certainly pleased to see the name IMSA retained, given its history, and since it's more than 40 years old. It's ironic that Big Bill France funded John Bishop's dream, and it's kind of poetic that that will come back full circle.
As far as the name of United SportsCar, I know I'm not a branding guy. If the new name draws attention and draws in more people and spectators, or get them to become fans, that's great. More than anything it comes down to the combination of the two in terms of the people. Adding the TV relationships from the Grand-Am side is nothing but great.
It is a new name and some people seem to be underwhelmed by it. I'm certainly happy and willing to give it its due and see what can happen. With the strength of the organization, that can go a long way. We may not necessarily like it as racing people – it's different – but if it draws people in and is easy to remember, then maybe that's all that matters.
Before this we were testing with our IndyCars at Barber. Everybody now has the same spec engine, which we didn't have at Sebring in February. On the first day in Barber, Graham was running a different setup to Mike Conway, and clearly Mike's was the better setup.
That's why you have two cars, to try different things. Mike (pictured BELOW) did a great job. He was fourth fastest the first day. Unfortunately there was a mechanical issue for Graham the second day, so he only did five laps or so.
James Jakes was able to go through a number of things on his day and ended ninth. I was pleased with it; you always want to be quickest, but it's a test. Everybody does tend to forget that. It was James' first time in a car since September.
The most important thing for us is that we showed up and knew we could go racing that day. We had spare cars ready to go. We had the trucks ready to go. It was a lot of effort, put in by the team, to ensure that when we did show up, we showed up at full strength.
Graham's car had not turned a wheel before he drove it. It was the same with James' car. We had to get them running. From a pace standpoint I'm not too worried. Some days are good, some are bad, for testing.
It's an interesting question as to whether Honda has made strides. Everyone's been working hard, I have no doubt. I don't know if we'll find out until we get to St. Pete. I think Honda's been a little conservative. These are engines that count that toward your engine allotment, so if you lost it, you'd get a 10-spot grid penalty for St. Pete. There was a little conservatism to go through without issues.
In the end I have no doubt that Honda, just as last year, is focused on the Indianapolis 500. It is the most important race. But I think they have developed their road racing spec engine, too, and I think it will be pretty very similar. It will be the same mileage limit between changes.
Last year at St. Petersburg was our first race back, our first race with Takuma Sato, the first race with Gerry Hughes as engineer, and in the race itself, Takuma led for a bit.
Graham has traditionally done well there. He won the pole in '09, of course he won in '08, and was top 10 with Sarah Fisher in '10, in his first race for them.
Having Eddie Jones (second engineer) is a big plus. Generally, we have good street race setups. I'm naturally optimistic; we believe we can be competitive and not have any hiccups or mistakes. At St. Pete it's often a matter of just surviving.
In past years, I've had to have one eye on my car and one on Graham, which has been natural as a parent. For sure it's great to have him here now, as he's in our team, on our side. Everyone is excited about that.
We're ready to have a great year and for us to give him the equipment and environment required to do that. I think we're as prepared as we've ever been, even going back to the CART days. We're ready to go – and anxious to go.
• 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