After a promising run in last year's Indianapolis 500 that saw the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team qualify seventh and run on the lead lap all day with Graham Rahal, the Ohio-based team has expanded to a two-car effort for the 2011 race. Second-year driver Bertrand Baguette (ABOVE LEFT) will drive the team's No. 30 RACB/Aspria Dallara-Honda, while rookie Jay Howard (ABOVE RIGHT) will drive the No. 88 Service Central car, entered as part of a partnership with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, beginning Saturday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as on-track preparations begin for the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500.
“We are looking forward to going to Indianapolis,” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal. “We have been consistently fast in recent years when we have gone there and I think that it shows that we have a good team and good people. Most of our guys were there when we won in 2004 and are some of the best in the business. The guys we have steering the cars have shown their abilities, so I think we have a realistic shot to be a factor in the race.”
Baguette ran well last year in his first trip to the 500, but fell victim to a loose mirror, which cost his team a number of laps to fix, and dropped him back to 22nd in the order. The young Belgian returns this year with a new team, but more importantly – a new bank of experience to draw from.
“Last year everything was all new to me, it was even my first time in America, and I literally had to learn everything about the car, the track and the race,” Baguette said. “I realize that I haven't been in the car since Miami last year, but this is the first oval race this year for everyone. It's a big challenge but we'll take our time, progressively get back up to speed and get ready for the race. I am really proud to be working with Rahal Letterman Lanigan. I have visited them a few times and I am very impressed with their facilities and the commitment of the team. They obviously know how to win the race, so I expect to have a great experience with them.”
Howard is looking to make his first Indy 500 start, having narrowly missed the race a year ago. His time last year was good enough to make the race, but uncertainty at the end of Bump Day led him to having his time pulled by his team and left him on the outside looking in. A veteran of nine IndyCar starts and winner of the 2006 Firestone Indy Lights championship, Howard is more than ready for his shot at the show this year.
“Being with a team like Rahal Letterman Lanigan and running in their program is a dream come true for me,“ said Howard. “I feel like I have paid my dues and been in some cars that have not been competitive, but having seen this team and knowing what it can do, I'm really confident in our chances to do well.”
Howard and Baguette will make their first laps of the month around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on Saturday afternoon. The RLL team will have seven days of practice available leading into Saturday's first qualifying day. The field will be finalized on Bump Day, May 22, with the race taking place May 29.