Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is running back in terms of the driver lineup in 2023. However, some major changes have still occurred. Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey have swap engineers. Harvey has also changed teams in a sense that he’s going from the 45 car to the 30 one.
With how well Rahal and Christian Lundgaard finished in 2022 and where Harvey was essentially nowhere to be found, some speculated on Harvey’s future with RLL.
Rahal finished 11th in points. Lundgaard took home Rookie of the Year honors with a 14th place finish in his first year in the series. Harvey was a distant 22nd.
Rahal had 5 top 10 starting positions in his last 9 races to the season in comparison to 3 in first 7. He also had scored 5 top 10’s in the last 8 races at that.Lundgaard, had 7 top 11 finishes over the last 10 races on the season. The Dane had just 3 in the first 7.
Harvey had just one top 10 result and no laps led. With Hy-Vee pumping in a lot of money to this team, you know they had to want to run closer to the front. However, Graham Rahal said that it wasn’t all Jack’s fault a year ago for the lack of success. A big part of it is the fact that RLL didn’t have cars good enough for Harvey to contend in. While some may say, well Rahal and Lundgaard did, Rahal says that the reason Harvey didn’t join them up front was because of his past.
“Well, look, I’ve got — still I have extremely high hopes for Jack (Harvey) and what can come,” said Rahal. “I love Jack. Number one, he’s a great person and I want to see him succeed.
“There’s a lot of effort I’ve actually personally put in, whether he knows it or not, but in the off-season to try to make sure that we’re doing the best that we can, too, for him. It’s really important to me.
“I just think that last year coming into this program we didn’t have the best cars. I think the Andretti cars were, are, were, considerably better. Considerably better.
“Maybe on race days that didn’t show to you guys as much, but I think that the cars were considerably better, and Jack will back that up.
“The thing is he came in here with an expectation of this is the way it should be. This is the way a car should feel. This is the way it should handle. This is what it should do, and it was nowhere near.
“So when people compare Jack versus Christian, the positive Christian had is no expectation. He didn’t know what it should feel like, so he’d just go drive it hard.
“Yeah, you would think in theory, well, Jack can just go drive and do it, too. It’s hard as a driver to change completely. It does take a little bit of time to jump from one team — I’ve done it from Ganassi to here, whatever. I remember going from Sebring and testing the Ganassi car, to six months later driving the RLL car there. They felt polar opposites.
“I mean, Newgarden will tell you the same. When he went to Penske, they were soft and rolly, and compared to anything he’d been in it was a bit of a shock. Of course, you can find a way to make it go fast, but point is, the mental side does take a period.
“I think that’s where it was with Jack. It was a big challenge to jump into something that drove so completely opposite of what he had been used to. So let’s all give it a chance here. I’m glad he’s back. We’ll keep trying to help him as best we can. He’s a young guy still. He should have a long, bright future ahead of him, so hopefully we can make it happen.
“I think my mind is just changed. When you’re young and you come into this it’s all about you. Everything is about you. Your focus and your energy, screw my teammates, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me.”
Harvey made 49 series starts prior to joining RLL. Those all came with Andretti Autosport or Meyer Shank Racing, who also had a technical alliance with Andretti. That’s a lot of data and a feel for how the cars need to feel to forget.
“A guy like Jack Harvey, I think Jack has a bright future ahead of him,” Rahal continued. “I don’t want to see Jack fail. I know how hard it is, whether people think so or not because my name is Rahal, I know how hard it is to get here.
“I’ve gone on the sponsor search. I’ve done all the work. I’ve helped put teams together. In 2010 I helped build my car for the Indy 500, wrenching on it myself.
“So I have been through a lot of different stages in this, so I understand what it takes. I see the effort that goes on behind the scenes. I just don’t want to see guys fail.
“I think it’s different when you’re young. I could have cared less if they were there the next year. Now I know how hard it is to get here. I know how competitive it is, too.
“I heard Will say a minute ago, I remember my first year in INDYCAR, man, if we weren’t in the top 5, top 7 running for Newman/Haas, even as a rookie, like there was something wrong, something wrong with you.
“Today that’s just not the case at all. I don’t want to see guys fail. That’s the biggest thing.”
Harvey says that he had a really great offseason and that this Fall, he went back to the UK to decompress.
“I think that was productive for me. It was just like a two-week trip,” he said.
“I came back ready to get back to work with a little bit of mental capacity to really dive into what went wrong in ’22, and one of the best feelings that I kind of left all of that with was feeling like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we were aware of what we want to work on and put solutions in place to try and do that, and obviously we’ll see how well we’ve done that come race time.
“But one of the best things about the atmosphere of the team was that level of reciprocation of accountability, whether it was with me and what I felt like I needed to improve, from the engineers, to the mechanics.
“The thing was in that moment, because everybody was willing to look inward and just honestly try and do their part better — that’s not to lay any more blame at anyone’s door. This was a team effort. If we’ve got something we need to improve, let’s go and do it. But that radiated through the building. Suddenly, because it’s that reciprocated, it makes you want to do it more, and then you dive in deeper and deeper.
“At the end of the day, the common goal between all of us on the team, through all the drivers, all the mechanics, engineers, everybody across commercial, all the sponsors, all the team owners, is how do we go and win, and at its core it’s probably the same for all race teams, but after the season we had I think it would have been easy for everybody to still feel a little down, and that wasn’t the case at all.
“These are the reasons why I love being a part of RLL, because I was excited that everybody’s attitude and outlook was one of really just positivity and I think a really healthy approach to trying to have a better season.
“I think the off-season was great, and then in terms of 2023, what we’re hoping to achieve, it’s probably going out and just getting the results that we know we have the talent to get, whether it’s hopefully my talent, the team’s talent, then go out there and say we want it to work with each other for these reasons.
“So then we looked back at ’22 and we go, that was an anomaly year. We don’t know what happened — well, we do know what happened, but it’s not going to happen again.”
As far as what did happen?
“Lots. Lots of things happened,” Harvey said. “In terms of the specifics with the team, I think it’s about — from my side it was being a little more flexible, I think, with the car and really the feeling I was hoping to get from the car.
“I think sometimes having the experience of a good car can be great. It also be can be not great when you’re not able to replicate that feeling, because then you get so — not stuck perhaps, but I know I felt like how the car should feel and we were struggling to kind of get to that phase, so I think one of the things I wanted to work on in the off-season was remaining flexible.
“Every year it’s a different challenge, and I think ultimately a lot of the great drivers in the series are able to adapt and grow and evolve and change, and I want to be one of them drivers.
“I think really it was more about remembering to be flexible, and also from the team side, are there other ways that we can perhaps meet each other when they’re not just trying to go down the same path every time with setups and stuff like that.
“Yeah, there’s specifics, and ultimately there are things that we have worked on internally and privately just to try and come to the track more prepared, which I feel like I had a good off-season, but I feel like as an organization, Rahal Letterman Lanigan has had a really great one, as well, moving into the new building full time, the new acquisition and hires that we’ve got.
“I think it all will really contribute into something great. I think it’s the case now that really I feel like we have turned the page on last year. We can keep rehashing it, but at this point it’s time to move on.
“The best thing about starting a new year is you get a new opportunity, and there’s while there is an opportunity for me to be a driver in this series, I’m going to go out and try and just be better than I was the previous year.
“I think one of the frustrating things that was a little frustrating about last year is at times I felt like I was driving well, and when the result doesn’t come, then it’s a little frustrating. I think really being at peace with all that like I am now just gives us a really great foundation to try and just have a good year.”
Is this a make-or-break year then for Harvey?
“I feel like you summed it up pretty well there really,” he says of his future. “In a lot of ways — every year is a big year, and in a lot of ways I feel past that. I’ve just accepted that. No matter what’s happening, every year is a big year, and the mindset or my mindset right now is just the focus is on Thermal, and then once we finish there, we’re going to try and take what we’ve learnt and see how we apply it to St. Pete, and then just one race at a time, one test at a time, and whatever is coming up is going to be our most important session, race, race weekend.
“At that point the future will figure itself out. At the end of the day last year I wasn’t satisfied team with the results we had. The team weren’t happy either, but we shared that mutual desire to have success.
“At that point I think we all would be happy if we were able to carry on.
“Look, at the end of the day, motorsports, sports is results-based, so we’ve got to go out and get them. I don’t see that as any more pressure. I love what I get to do. I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to get to do this and call it a job.
“While it’s an opportunity to do it, I’m going to keep giving it my all until there isn’t one.”
Part of the process to help was RLL had an overhaul at the personnel department.
“Yeah, I feel really good about where we’re at,” Graham Rahal said. “As I was thinking about this exact kind of media conference last year, I was pretty reserved in some of my comments about the outlook, and I was thinking about it this year, I feel a lot more positive.
“I think Stefano (Sordo) has done a great job as he’s come in, but I think also organizationally from the team perspective we seem to be in a much better place. Everybody is working towards achieving the same goals.
The engineering side is more focused I would say. Not that they weren’t last year, but I would say more focused on the right things and not spending time doing things that aren’t moving the program forward.
“I feel really good about where we stand.
“I’m excited to be back with Eddie. I had a great time with Alan. I love Alan. But I think it was time. It was time for a change, and I think it was time for Jack, too, in particular.
“I felt like Jack, when I sit back and look at things from an unselfish perspective and the team, which I often do, I feel like Jack was going to need change to get him on track this year, and to be back with Mike or to be back with Eddie, who he was with last year, I didn’t feel like for him that was going to move the needle on his side of the team enough.
“But for me to have Eddie is awesome. Eddie and I are kind of both pretty low-key guys. We’re on the same page. Super fiery and competitive, but off the track I think we both have a similar mindset.
“Adam Kolesar is going to be the assistant. He’ll be race engineer I’m sure shortly with us. Adam has been under Alan for a long time. He’s a great kid. The hardest working guy on our team by far, not even close, and to have him with Eddie I think will also help further his career.
“We’ve got a really good staff obviously with Derek Davidson on my car, as well, this year. I’m excited about that because I’ve never gotten to work with Double D in that regard, and he’s a guy I have tremendous respect for as a leader, an organizer and a manager and everything else.
“I’m excited about that.
“We’ve had a little bit of turnover this year, as to be expected. There was time for change in certain things. But with Eddie, he and I won five times in three years. We know how to win together, and hopefully we can get this thing back on track. We’re pretty fired up about it.”
Rahal also mentions that a huge positive is that the direction is now simplified. Bringing Sordo on was a huge moment with is experience and direction which solidified Rahal’s thinking process from before.
“I think what we needed most was pretty simple, and that’s just direction,” he noted. “I thought that from the top on down, we needed a clearer path, from the engineering corps in particular. We didn’t have a technical director. We didn’t really have somebody that was leading the charge. We didn’t have enough depth.
“That’s becoming clearer to us now that we know like what McLaren is doing. With Stefano coming in you see what all they’re doing, and we were not even in the ballpark as far as depth and stuff like that. We’ve learned that now. We’ve been able to add. We’ve gotten ourselves into a really good spot.
“You see, though, it’s not like we’ve fired a bunch of engineers. Our guys are good. We’ve got good people. But we needed direction, and we needed somebody to kind of stand up and go, no, this is a — I’m not going to say what it is, but there was some testing we’ve done for a while that we’ve all been saying, this is worthless, we’re getting nothing out of it, but we kept getting told, no, we’ve got to do it.
“Luckily Stefano comes in and says, that’s worthless. Why are you doing that? Thank goodness. Here’s somebody else who can back up what we’ve been saying for a long time. Now we can focus our energy. Engineers aren’t doing all these crazy projects. It’s just let’s focus on what actually can move the needle.
“I thought that’s what Stefano really brought to the table. Kind of helped drive us a little bit better, so I’m really excited about that. We’ve obviously all talked about Ryan Harbar a lot this off-season. I gave him — he’s our trainer, head of human performance for us.
“Given him a lot of s— about the fact that he’s gotten more media attention than anybody else in the INDYCAR paddock this off-season.
“But having said that, he has absolutely changed the mental side and the culture within the team and gotten everybody locked in and focused and working out and using the sauna and playing pickleball tournaments at the end of the day for the camaraderie and the competition, and getting everybody — I mean, the pit stop practice have been amazing, the breakdown of the videos and everything.
“Ryan has also done a great job, I think, just moving the needle on the mental scope for the staff, for us to make our game to the next level.
“Hopefully we can put all those pieces together and have a great year.”
“Well, I feel like he’s created a huge level of stability within the engineering room, having just — he’s the guy where if I’ve got a big question, that’s who I go and talk to about it.
“If we’re talking about direction and the methodologies that we want to try and implement as a team, now that falls into his role within the team. He’s an incredibly accomplished person, what he’s achieved in his career, and I was very excited when Bobby called me and said this is who we’re getting to be the technical director of the team.
“At that point we’ve had a lot of really good conversations, and to him just — we’ve done it this way just because that’s how we do it isn’t an acceptable answer. It has to be — it’s very purposeful. He has a lot of intent. He doesn’t like to waste time.
“Yeah, I think he’s really just trying to help steady the ship, create a good direction that we can all go down, and yeah, I would say so far the time that we’ve shared together has just been a really good one with — I mean, a word you’re going to hear a lot today is going to be “intent” and “purposeful,” and we want to go to the track confident at least within our team that we’re doing is the right thing because it’s been spoken about, it’s been challenged. We’re doing that because of — why are we doing that, because of any reasons.
“I certainly feel like there’s been a shift within the team, feels like. At this point honestly just excited to get on track and just see how those things kind of start to unfold and play out.
“A question I got asked earlier was if you could choose between one of these four races to win, which one would it be? The 500 wasn’t an option, but I said St. Pete, because let’s get our season started in a good place, in a good way.
“And like I said earlier, the goal is to just take every race weekend as they come, which so far feels like it’s been Stefano’s goal, as well. We’re not going to get carried away thinking about lots of things ahead. It’s just going to be, what are we doing today, what are we doing tomorrow.”