There’s no doubt about it, the NTT IndyCar Series has their own “Big 3.” How Formula One has theirs in Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, INDYCAR has three teams that have separated themselves from the pack as well. Unlike F1 though, INDYCAR has still seen the “rest” of the teams still find victory lane from time to time. I still stand that the NTT IndyCar Series is the most diverse and toughest series in the world to win a race in. I truly believe that.
While saying that, I also think that the “Big 3” is starting to gain some company too via Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing. This is the team that everyone had their eyes on as they’ve steadily built their way back up.
If they continue this ascension, this is going to be a team to watch for the future. I mean, before we look at what they’ve done recently, lets go back to when Graham Rahal came back to his dads team from Chip Ganassi Racing in 2013. He and James Jakes drove the two full time cars that year. Rahal had two top five finishes in 18 races. He also only had four top five finishes all year. He was 25th in the Indy 500. Jakes meanwhile, had one top five and just three top 10’s. He finished 20th in Indy.
Next year (2014), they scaled back to just one full time car in Rahal. They did this so that they can get their program right again. It had been since 2008 that they had won a race in Indy Car so why not scale back and build back up again. That’s why 2014 was a rebuilding year for this outfit. Still, Rahal had similar stats, which was impressive. Two top fives and four top 10’s. He did finish last (33rd) in Indy. But, they hired a veteran in Oriol Servia to drive the second car on a part time basis for that veteran voice to help with setups. Still, this was all by design to make Rahal’s No. 15 Honda relevant again. All the focus was on that entry, even adding a second car on a part time basis to the mix, was for data to help their full time team.
That’s why in 2015, it all started paying off. Rahal, had a career year. He won twice, including on his home track at Mid-Ohio. He had a couple of runner-ups including a career best eight top five finishes all season. One of those was a fifth place run in the Indianapolis 500. In 16 starts that season, Rahal had 10 top 10’s and finished fourth in the final standings.
2016 was a similar year. Rahal yet had another win at Texas to go along with eight top five finishes and a fifth place result in the final standings.
2017 was another similar year to 2016. Rahal swept the Belle Isle weekend, had six top five finishes and 11 top 10’s. He’s finish sixth in the final standings.
See, they started noticing a trend now. The stats were relatively the same each year. Rahal, was doing all the work. They always had said, they’re not going to add a second or third car to the mix just to add one. They wanted to do it right. They wanted to get Rahal’s car back in the mix and then would be open to giving him a teammate. The second car couldn’t take away from Rahal’s operation. It was to run in conjunction, but not take away from his performance. With the performance stalling out, if they wanted to catch the “Big 3” then they needed to grow again.
So, that’s what they did.
For 2018, in came Takuma Sato. For the first time since his first season at RLL, Rahal had a full season teammate. It was a veteran in Sato too. This is when RLL started to take off even further. While the results were a slight step back for Rahal the last couple of years, the second car for Sato kind of picked up. They needed to even them out, then rise together if that makes any sense.
So, in came even more engineers and for 2020, off RLL went.
Sato, gave RLL their first Indy 500 win in 16 years. Rahal, finished third as both full time RLL cars finished in the top three for the year’s biggest race. They both also made the Fast Nine too.
Both sit in the top six of the points standings at the midway point of the season and head to Gateway this weekend for two more races on the 1.25-mile St. Louis area race track. It’s a place that the last time that they were at, Sato was victorious at last August.
So, don’t put it past RLL to contend this weekend either.
I mean, since 2016, no one has won as many races in the series than Team Penske. They’ve won 36 of the 74 races run. Chip Ganassi Racing is next at 12 while Andretti Autosport has won 10 times in that span. Combined, that’s 59 race wins for the “Big 3” in 74 races run.
But, RLL is closing the gap. They’ve won seven times in 4 1/2 years. The next best? Two.
What about since this new car came out in 2018? Penske, Ganassi and Andretti have combined to win 33 of the 41 races run over the last 2 1/2 years. RLL has four wins which is double from the next best at 2.
Now, if you look at the breakdown of wins since 2018, Penske has 17, Ganassi 9, Andretti 7. RLL has 4. That gap as you can see from the bottom of the “Big 3” to RLL is shrinking.
Now, when you see what has happened this year with RLL having their drivers 4-6 in the standings and Andretti’s are 7-11-13-14-16-21 and Ganassi’s are 1-10-12, you can see RLL is shortening the gap to the two teams in front of them.
Still, this plan is honestly rising. That’s why the “Big 3” is soon to become the “Big 4.” RLL has done a great job of this plan and building the right way. They’ve got sponsors, partners, engineering and the drivers to do so.