RLL fills driver lineup, an inside look at why they chose Harvey and Lundgaard for the 2 open seats and why the drivers felt like RLL was the right place for them

INDIANAPOLIS — Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing’s now full. Graham Rahal obviously wasn’t going anywhere, but they had two open seats and in a matter of two weeks, both are filled. Jack Harvey will drive the No. 45 Honda with now Christian Lundgaard in the No. 30 Honda.

With that said, the question may be, why did they pick Lundgaard and Harvey over someone like Santino Ferrucci and Oliver Askew? I think most assumed that the Hy-Vee car would go to one of them and the 30 car to Harvey. Instead, it was the other way around with Lundgaard in place of Askew/Ferrucci for that 30 seat.

“Well, I mean, certainly Jack driving the 45 car was considered as a part of the plan or a big consideration,” said Bobby Rahal on that topic of if anything change or was Harvey in this car all along. “The most important thing is who could we get for that car that was going to do a job that — this is an important commitment for our team, for RLL. This is a sponsor that has been tremendously supportive of us even just to this point, so it was very important for me personally, and I think Mike felt the same way, and Dave, that we’d put the best possible guy we could get in that car.

“Really in the end, Jack filled that bill. We tried several other guys, as you well know, and I’m not going to comment on the possibilities of any one of them being remaining with the team, but just suffice it to say, we wanted the best guy we could get in the 45 car. That’s not saying we’re not looking for the best guy we can get for the 30 car, because as I said earlier, our goal over the last year has been to put ourselves in position to put the three best guys that we can get into the team to drive that team forward.

“With Jack, with Graham, I think we’ve got two out of that three, and we’re working on the third.”

Why Harvey For The 45 Car

As to why Harvey then? Rahal says it was simple. He likes what he saw.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am to welcome Jack to our team,” said Rahal. “Really for me when it came down to who are we going to get to drive this car, I’d had interest in Jack before. Obviously he showed his pace. He showed he had a lot of good races. He had some very good races that didn’t end up so well, which that happens in racing, but through no fault of his own I might add. But that happens.

“I’ve seen his pace on the tracks, and I’ve seen what he can do, in qualifying and in race day. I just think that — I don’t think there’s any question that he has the capability, and for us now, it’s all about giving him the team around him to really take it to the next level, which is to put it in Victory Lane, and I think there’s no doubt that he can do that.

“I first heard of him during his time in Indy Lights. He has a great record of success over the years in all forms of racing so I’m pleased that he agreed to join our team. He and Graham will work well together and be a strong foundation for our driver lineup that will raise not only the level of each driver individually but of the team as a result. I respect and appreciate his commitment and work ethic to racing on and off the track which is so key.

“I think for sure Jack, Graham will push each other. That does great things for a team because it just raises the competitiveness of the team. All you have to do is look at Roger, what his team has been like over the years, or Chip. You’ve got to have guys within the organization that are pushing each other and really trying to make it better, and so I’m really pleased that Jack agreed to come along with us.

“And I also respect the way he deals with people – friendly and respectful. I think we’re going to have a lot of success together and I very much look forward to having him with us. Our goal, Mike’s, mine, Dave’s, our goal was to really put forth the strongest three-car program we could for 2022 and beyond, and certainly Hy-Vee was a huge component of that or is a huge component, and then bringing Jack in to the team is just as much of a huge one.

“I can’t think of a better representative for Hy-Vee and RLL, both on and off the track.”

Why Lundgaard For The 30 Car

So, then why Lundgaard? First off, this was a fully funded ride. They didn’t need any funding from anyone to come in and take it. See, Rahal previously had said taht this ride didn’t come down to funding. They could pick the driver that they wanted.

“You know, we — thankfully through the hard work of our marketing/sales group, Tom Knox and his folks, there’s been a lot of work, a lot of commitment over the last year or two to get us to the point where we could hire who we wanted to hire. That’s the same — that’s led us to this point,” Rahal said.

“That’s the way it used to be for me back in the days of Team Rahal when we had Bryan Herta or Kenny Brack or Max Papis or any of those fellas in our team.

“Thankfully, again, through all that hard work, we’re in a position where we can make independent choices. That’s nice. I can tell you. And we’re continuing — as you know, in racing there’s never enough money, so we’re continuing to knock on doors, but we’re really pleased with where we’re at at this point in time.”

Rahal gives a ton of credit to a change in direction several years ago in which they’re now reaping the benefits of that decision made then.

“Probably six years ago, seven years ago, Mike Lanigan and I decided we really need to make the financial commitment to create an in-house marketing/sales organization, and we found this fellow Tom Knox and asked him to — and Tom had been with Rusty Wallace, he had been with NASCAR, he had been with IMG, a really strong resume, and he thankfully came on and we just re-upped another long-term agreement with him, and he’s done a great job with his team, put a team together that’s really producing results.

“That’s what’s put us in this place. Obviously the on-track product hasn’t been bad at all by any means, but it takes more than that.

“So the organization has really — why we are where we are is because of those efforts I think in particular, and then we continually look for further relationships in the corporate world to help us along our way and for us to create these kinds of relationships like we have been able to do with Hy-Vee.

“That has been a goal of ours, as I said, that we wanted to get to a place where we were hiring drivers because of our respect for their abilities and what they could do for our team, and we’re at that point.”

So, did Lundgaard bring money? Did Alpine come here with him? Lundgaard said that’s actually not the case. They truly picked him for his talent and not his money.

“At the moment I still have a remaining contract for the whole of 2021,” he said. “That’s the whole contract I have with Alpine. And for the future it’s unknown. We don’t know. It’s still to be decided.

“But at the moment, the future is with RLL and INDYCAR, then we take it from there. At the moment there’s no decision made, but I will — it’s difficult to explain what’s going to happen because we don’t really know, but for me it’s about focusing on what I’m doing and then we see where the rest leads.”

That’s refreshing to Lundgaard who says it’s the opposite overseas right now.

“My dream as a European has always been to go to F1, but we also know that there is 22 cars — 20 cars, and there’s 20 drivers. If they perform to the level that the team wants, they’ve still got the seat and so on. So it’s very difficult for the younger drivers to come in without the proper funding, without the proper results,” he said.

“It’s all about timing. You look now this year, for example, I’m still a part of the Alpine Academy for the remaining of 2021. And we look at Oscar, he’s leading the championship, and what is he going to do for next year, the seats are taken.

“For me to come over here and to prove what I can do, and continue, you know, it’s not just for one single year. We can keep on building, and then maybe in four or five years if the time is right and the space is there, if that’s what it’s going to be, then that’s what it’s going to be.

“For me it’s always about winning what I’m doing and then we take it from there. I came into 2021 expecting to win the championship and it didn’t go that way; now I’m coming here and I’ve got a fresh start, and then I’ll take it from there.

“But I’m very confident that I’m at the right place with RLL, that’s for sure.”

As far as then what put Lundgaard on Rahal’s radar to even get noticed? He said it was a past contact who he’s worked with in the past.

“Well, Piers Phillips is the president of RLL, really is the one who brought Christian to my attention,” he said. “We also work — we have a representative in Europe, Rick Gorne, who of course used to be involved with Raynard for many, many years.

“Rick and I have — we’ve known each other since the mid ’90s, I guess, and Rick had identified Christian for us. Like he’d done that with previous drivers, de Ferran, people like that years ago. I think he and Piers are the ones that said, Hey, this is a guy you need to look at.

“So the introduction was made and then we did that test. We invited Chris than to come over. We also tested another driver at the same test to give us a good feel, and again, both drivers did a very good job.

“But based on what we saw, experienced from Christian, which was then exemplified on race weekend, that’s what motivated us to go in the direction that we did.”

What about him did he want over the others then? What was it about his abilities to pick him over anyone else vying for this coveted seat.

“A lot of that was — the decision was really a group decision made by ownership, myself, Mike Lanigan and David, obviously, but, you know, Piers, the engineers, especially the engineers who worked with — again, did the tests, did the race,” said Bobby Rahal.

“They’ve worked with a lot of different people. Inevitably they’re the ones who are going to be working with the drivers on a day-to-day basis anyway. Their opinions and feedback was, I think, very crucial in which direction we would take.

“I think the test at Barber went very, very well with Christian. It’s hard because this decision you make obviously affects somebody, well, in a good way, and others in not such a good way. Clearly not a real, I think, declaration by us that Santino or Oliver were just not there, but we just felt that the package that we saw that Christian really represented the direction we wanted to go, and so that’s why we made the decision to go with Christian.

“And the fact that it’s multiyear I think is a plus, as well, because it’s going to take him some time to learn the ropes as we would say, particularly on the ovals. But I think he’s already shown he’s a fast learner.

“As I said, to get back to — it was really a group decision and ownership I think was very confident in the opinions and the direction that the team gave us.

“For us, it’s all about investing in our future, and we really felt that Christian showed us that we needed what he could bring to the equation. I think we can bring to him a great team. And so for everybody, I think it’s a great day, and we’re very excited about the 2022 season.

“We’re very pleased.”

Why Harvey Wanted To Go To RLL When He Had A Seat With Meyer Shank Racing

For Harvey, his big question was why leave MSR to join RLL when everything was seemingly being built around him at his past team? Why RLL and why now?

“I’m incredibly excited to be joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing,” Harvey said. “I’ve been working towards this moment for my entire career.

“I really enjoyed my initial chats with Bobby and with Mike, the ambition of the team, and honestly what really drew me to the team was they were having a good season, but that wasn’t enough. That’s really how I felt, as well.

“It was a huge part, ultimately. I look at our season, and it was filled with a lot of potential. Too many coulda-woulda-shouldas, and I would look every weekend and watch the races back, and I always felt like Graham’s race pace was exceptionally strong, and as a team they always found a way to get their drivers to the front. That’s definitely been a few races where I was envious of that.

“I think a lot of it, you look at their season, and the cars always run really well at Indy, which is evident because they’ve won it extremely recently, Graham has been very strong this year. I thought the 45 at the end of the year was running pretty strong, as well, and ultimately I think the team expanding to three cars is a great move for everybody. But their consistency, and when you see all three cars be quick and have the opportunity to be quick, that’s what you want to be a part of.

“I feel like what I can bring to the team is obviously trying to qualify, keep our qualifying performances going, but also be able to improve on our race pace, which I feel like between me and the team, we should be ticking a lot of those boxes.

“There’s just a lot of really great things that everybody at RLL is doing, which made that such an enticing opportunity. Again, like I said, it wasn’t one particular thing, it was just the team is very, very good across the board, and like I said to a couple of people who kind of knew, it was a tough decision, but ultimately where I was before, MSR, I’ve been there a long time, I know a lot of people there, it would have been easy to have stayed, and ultimately I wouldn’t have just left that organization for anything, but I was really excited about this project, this opportunity, and I wanted to be a part of it.

“I’d like people to know that I wouldn’t have just taken anything. I was truly excited about this.

“I feel ready to have an expanded role, I guess. I’m really excited to get on track. I feel that my time at MSR has served me really well, and I feel ready to win.

“The things I loved about to the team was there’s still things I need to work on, and I feel like the team has a lot of infrastructure and support to help me grow both as a driver and as a person. I’m excited to work with Graham and the third car when that gets announced.

“But to me it wasn’t one thing that hammered it home. It was from the get-go, from our first conversations to now, I’ve just been so impressed with the hunger and desire of the team. Obviously Hy-Vee’s commitment has been incredible.

“There’s so many things to look forward to with this team, and honestly I’m just really grateful to be a small part of it but obviously a big part of it come race day.

“But it takes a village; you can’t just do it on your own. A lot of people have helped me to get here, and just excited for the future at this point.”

“He certainly proved his pace and proved what he could do, and the one single race that he did, not just for us but in INDYCAR as a whole,” he said.

Why Lundgaard Wanted To Come To INDYCAR

The deal with Lundgaard is a two-way street. They wanted him but did he want INDYCAR? With him having a path to F1 but that path being remarkably blocked by no open rides, he wanted to come back here. Credit that to his opportunity here at Indy back in August.

“I think for me, the whole culture in America is so different than what I’m used to,” Lundgaard said. “I’ve been in F2 last year in 2020 and this year in 2021, and when I got the taste for the INDYCAR car and Barber had the test, I think for me it was a new experience, something completely different than what I was used to.

“I came over to do the race without any expectations, and it went pretty well. I think what we performed on Friday was good enough. The race itself was quite tough, but for me it was — you know, it’s something that gave me hunger to try again, and I think to sit down and be here today and now know what I’ll be doing for 2022 is amazing.

“In the end it actually came down to what do I personally want and what will I enjoy, and for me when I did the race over here, that’s what I enjoyed the most. I haven’t enjoyed a race weekend as much as that one for years, except obviously when you have a very good weekend in whatever you’re doing and you are winning and dominating.

“But to come in for one race weekend and enjoy it that much surprised me. So from there on, that’s what I personally wanted to go to, and in the end we made that work.”

As far as what about the series he liked so much?

“The car. The speed. I think the general history of the series,” he said. “It’s, again, so different. I think Bobby mentioned it earlier, like what INDYCAR is now is probably what I would think F1 was before I was born. You know, it’s the proper racing I want to do.

“I spoke to some drivers a few days ago that’s been in INDYCAR and they say, here, you come, you enjoy, you like driving. But the first — when you begin in Europe, you have the, let’s say the proper feeling of racing that you enjoy, but the more you do it you kind of die, the spirit die.

“Where for me over here it just continues. That’s what I had when I came for the race in August, that this is just so different. It’s a complete new spark that just fired in me, and I wanted to continue with that.

“I think it will. I’m pretty sure it will. INDYCAR is the place to be, and I’m perfectly happy with where I am with RLL.”


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