Bobby Rahal confirmed the second Rahal Letterman Lanigan IndyCar is “very close” to being announced, and also revealed the team's testing plans for the balance of the off-season.
Although RLL Racing's IndyCar group hasn't tested – its ALMS BMW M3 program is in action this week at Sebring – it plans to run at Barber Motorsports Park Feb. 20-21. Its only running so far this off-season was when Takuma Sato performed an evaluation test for the team in the Honda test car, mid-December at Sebring.
As part of the team's expansion, it has hired several former Newman/Haas Racing employees, including Bruno Couprie, Oriol Servia's engineer in 2011. Rahal estimated Couprie (BELOW) will be more active on the ALMS program, but also provide IndyCar input.
“While Bruno's main focus will be on the BMW program, he also will have an involvement on the IndyCar side,” Rahal said. “Of course, Jay O'Connell is our technical director. He's led the charge in terms of staffing the engineering side of the occasion.
“We do have an engineer for Taku. Unfortunately, I can't tell who it is at this stage of the game. But he's been a very successful one over the years. So we're pleased when he'll be on-board officially.
“We're talking to a number of other people. I don't like the lateness of some of this stuff, as you might imagine. But there's some good people out there. There are people from other walks of life, so to speak, that haven't necessarily been in IndyCar in the last year or two but still are very accomplished engineers.”
With Sato's car confirmed, the team now shifts its focus to preparing its second car. As one of the teams with a Honda engine contract in place, Rahal's team largely has been quiet on its preparation, especially as Sato's confirmation only came last week, but Rahal flatly denied any chance the team's second car won't appear.
“We're very close on that,” Rahal said. “All of our efforts are being split right now between getting Taku's car ready for the Barber test. This last week we did not go to the Sebring test because we felt it was more important for us to understand the car that we have a little bit better, so we spent several days on the seven-post rig up in Canada, which we've used quite extensively in the past in IndyCar Series and ALMS cars. We came away with a lot of good information from that.
“Quite frankly, there's plenty of time. You're limited to 1,000 miles per driver preseason anyway. So by doing Barber, Sebring and Sebring again, we'll be able to accomplish 1,000 miles.
“I think right now it's getting Taku's car ready for those tests and working hard to finalize our second driver. The second car is being prepared as we speak. As far as we're concerned, we're going to have two cars, two drivers, and that's really our focus at this point in time. We're working hard for that. I think we will be. So that's how we're going forward at this stage.”
Additionally, as the team is re-entering the series in 2012 full-time for the first time since 2008, the team isn't an automatic recipient of funding for the Leaders Circle program as it was outside the top-22 in 2011 entrant points. Rahal said the team still hopes to garner one of the Leaders Circle contracts.
“On the Leaders Circle situation, I'm not quite sure what the situation is there,” he said. “We certainly made a presentation to them, as did many other teams.
“I think we bring some unique assets to the equation that can really help IndyCar. I think we've already utilized many of those, thanks to David Letterman. But that process is still going on as far as I know. We've not heard one way or the other.
“We certainly hope to receive one of the Leaders Circle memberships and believe we deserve to be, frankly. But, again, it's out of our hands at this stage and we'll just have to wait like everybody else. I think it is important for us to be one of the members of the Leaders Circle, so we're certainly hopeful.”