Confirming a long-anticipated move, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced Wednesday afternoon in Indianapolis that Graham Rahal, 23, son of team founder Bobby Rahal, has signed a multi-year contract to race for the team in the IZOD IndyCar Series
His father, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time Indy car champion Bobby Rahal, co-owns the team with CBS LATE SHOW host David Letterman and Mi-Jack co-owner Michael Lanigan. TBC Retail Group, who has sponsored Graham since 2010, will be the primary sponsor while Valvoline will be a major associate sponsor.
“It's extremely exciting for me to join Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing full time,” said Graham Rahal. “It's something that I thought really wouldn't happen this early in my career but, at this point, it absolutely makes the most sense for us.
“For me, this is probably the most excited I have been to join any team because I see the potential behind what my dad and the rest of the team have been able to accomplish over the last year with Takuma [Sato]. And knowing the development and other things that the team will now have the time to do to prepare for the season makes me more than thrilled to be here. I can't wait for the whole process to begin – the testing and obviously going racing! It's really an exciting time for me.”
“I think this is a great moment for our family, for the team and for the sport and I thank TBC Retail Group and Valvoline for making it possible," said Bobby Rahal. "Of course, for me, the pressure is really on us to deliver the goods so that Graham can realize all the potential he has. I think we can create an environment that will allow him to fulfill that potential.
"The last time Graham was the leader of the team was when he was with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in 2009. For only a 20-year-old kid, he won a couple of poles, had a number of very good races, was very competitive and finished seventh in the championship. If we give him that level of focus I think he can do even better than that, so I am quite excited about the potential although, as I said, the sense of commitment that we now have to make sure we deliver the goods has probably never been higher. I think it is great for the team and I really look forward to seeing Graham's helmet in our car.
“I have been asked if Graham was going to drive for our team since almost Day 1. As I said all along, I felt it was better for him to get his experience with different teams and I think it's paid off for him; I think he's a much better driver because of it. It has matured him because he was not dealing with family, he was dealing with professionals and people who had expectations.
"Certainly one of the big concerns for me is the whole family dynamic which can be great in one way and in another could be destructive so both of us have to make sure we treat each other with respect as professionals do. I think now is the right time; he's proven he belongs and has the respect of his peers and that was the most important thing for me. I think now is the time to realize all the tremendous potential he has.
“Graham has a pretty good idea of what he wants in his car. It's always a plus to have a driver who knows that because that gives you something very clear to work toward. He is obviously a good racer and we will work on the qualifying a bit but you can see that he tends to go forward, not backward in the races and ultimately that's what you really want. As a team, having both him and I here is like a two-for-one special for ourselves, our sponsors, and the potential sponsors we are talking to. That adds value to our sales proposition and is a huge win-win for us as a team.”
Although the announcement made no mention of a second car, the elder Rahal told the Associated Press he was hopeful of fielding another full-time entry, and possibly a third car in the Indy 500.
"Our second program is not formalized, we're working pretty hard and we're pretty close," he told the AP. "My goal is for us to have two strong drivers, and there are a lot of good drivers on the market. I don't think I have any interest in being more than a two-car team. But, if we (get that done) by the end of the year, we'll also run a third car at Indy."
TBC Retail Group operates more than 2700 franchised and company operated tire and automotive service centers under the brands Tire Kingdom, Merchant's Tire & Auto Centers, NTB-National Tire & Battery, Big O Tires, Midas, and SpeeDee Oil & Tune-Up. Valvoline, a brand of Ashland Inc., has been serving American motorists longer than any other motor oil and is a leading, worldwide producer and distributor of premium-branded automotive, commercial and industrial lubricants and car-care products.
“We are excited to sponsor Graham again this year in partnership with Valvoline,” said Orland Wolford, CEO TBC Retail Group, Service Central. “He is an exceptional ambassador for our brands. Not to mention, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has the equipment and expertise to keep him running in the front of the pack.”
The 2013 season will mark the seventh in a top-tier open-wheel racing series for Graham Rahal, who became the youngest winner in major auto racing history when he drove to victory in his first IndyCar Series race at the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at the age of 19. The following season he became the youngest pole winner at the same event – both while driving for Newman/Haas Lanigan Racing, a team co-owned by Michael Lanigan at the time.
RLL returned to full-time IZOD IndyCar Series competition in 2012 for the first time since 2008 and was a contender for victory several times with Sato, including at the Indianapolis 500.
“We had the potential to win this season; we showed a lot of promise," noted Bobby Rahal. "When you look at where we started, which wasn't until January while other people had been testing or had their cars, we came a long way in a short amount of time. We had an inexperienced Indy car engineer (Gerry Hughes) whom I think did an excellent job this year, and a brand-new team that had to come together very quickly. Almost only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes but we almost won Indy. We ran competitively there, in St. Pete, Long Beach, Edmonton and others. We were generally very competitive all year long no matter where we were, so I was very pleased with the performance.
"In general, outside of the top three teams we led the second highest amount of laps – and I think that is saying something because a lot of the teams we competed against had a lot more experience together than we did. I look at it as a very good start to our re-entry into Indy car racing on a full-time basis. We can take all of the knowledge from this year and, now that time is on our side and no longer an adversary, we can make sure we are in an even more competitive position at the first race in 2013. Now we have the time to do some of the things we've wanted to do all year.”