Bobby Rahal's column: What down time?

Bobby Rahal's column: What down time?

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Bobby Rahal's column: What down time?

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Our 2013 IndyCar and sports car seasons are in the books but there’s not much time to breathe as we hit the winter months!

We’ve just announced Bill Pappas as Graham’s new engineer for 2014. Bill was a good friend of Scott Roembke’s and we had tried to get Bill to come to Columbus over the years to engineer one of our cars, but were never able to get it done. So when I restarted the IndyCar team full time, I chose Indianapolis because that’s the center of IndyCar racing, and where the talent is based. As a result, we’ve been able to attract many strong people at all levels of the organization in addition to Bill.

Even though we had failed to get Bill to come on board prior to this, I saw Bill at every race and at Scott’s funeral last year we started talking. And because I have great respect for Bill and his abilities, I believed he would be a great engineer for Graham and for us as a team. I’m really pleased as he brings a lot of common sense and intelligence to what he does. In some respects, he’s a little bit ?old school? like Don Halliday and Eddie Jones, and I think ?old school? goes a long way in racing!

I have to thank Neil Fife for his contributions to our team; Neil was on a part-time deal to fill out the end of the year, and did a great job. He had worked with us before as Ryan Hunter-Reay’s engineer in ’07-’08. That’s why we turned to Neil this year, and I was very appreciative of his willingness to help us out and work with us. Neil is Ohio-based so that’s not ideal, and he has other things he’s working on. We might need him for special projects in the future. But the chance to bring Bill on board was too good to pass up.

Graham heads into 2014 preparations after a few strong races this year. He was second at Long Beach. He was 12th at St. Petersburg on the grid, and he’d moved up between Marco and Hunter-Reay to P7 early on before an electrical shut the engine off. Plain and simple, when we gave him a good car his competitiveness showed. He’s a racer and with Bill I look forward to great things.

In looking at James Jakes, I really like him and I think he did a very good job. Some races, Detroit for instance, he was extremely good. Other races, I think the setups chosen were great for qualifying but not for the race. But all in all, he did a good job. He did better than people thought he would. It’s all a credit to him and Eddie Jones, and the relationship was very positive for them. We enjoyed having James as part of the team and would love to have him back. Certainly, he showed that given the right car he could run up front. We’re hopeful the funding can be found, and we’re working toward that as we speak.

We’d also had Jack Hawksworth in our car for a one-day test at Sebring, and he did a great job for us there in his first test. He was very focused and did a workmanlike job. His feedback is good. We were very pleased with that. There’s no question he has what it takes to run in IndyCar. He’s young and doesn’t have much experience but I believe he’s ready to take the next step.

For 2014, I don’t want to discount a third car but we’re not prepared to do that right now. My goal is frankly to have two strong entries. We’ve run three cars in the past, but there’s a lot of concern when there’s that many people involved. Andretti has done a good job with all the cars they have but for us, two is the magic number. A third would depend on who it was and whether he could really contribute to the performance of the team as a whole. We’re working to have two well-funded, well-run programs and we’ll worry about expanding at a later date.

The 2014 schedule is pretty good in my estimation. I’m not a huge fan of a lot of races in a row, but there are enough breaks. And I don’t have a problem ending on Labor Day. It’s been done before in the old CART days but I have to say I would like the season to start earlier. But having had to put together a season during my short term as interim CEO of CART in 2000, I can tell you there is nothing more difficult than putting together a series schedule that pleases all constituents.

I am a fan of the idea of these overseas, special races in the off-season. It offers the teams the potential of bringing in new sponsors and allows us to use our resources on a more consistent basis. And there is quite a bit of demand for major league racing in many parts of the world that can’t afford F1. Therefore, why don’t we fill that need?

On the BMW sports car side, for a new car, we had a very good year with the Z4 in the American Le Mans Series. We won twice, and were in contention for a few more. The Balance of Performance was not in our favor at many of the events but, hopefully, with a year’s worth of on track experience, the powers-that-be make the appropriate changes to where we can be more competitive on circuits like COTA, Elkhart Lake or Mosport. We’re excited to go to Daytona a couple weeks from now for testing. But all-in-all, 2013 season was pretty successful on the whole.

I was really proud of John Edwards’ efforts this year alongside our regular BMW drivers Joey Hand, Bill Auberlen, Dirk Muller and Maxime Martin. I’d proposed John to BMW and was thankful BMW agreed to go that way. He’s done what I thought he could do. His first year with us, he did a great job. I think BMW is quite pleased with his performances. He’s just a solid guy ” very quiet but he gets on with the job and is a team player.

So as I said, no rest for the weary! We’re excited about 2014 on so many fronts ” the direction Mark Miles is taking IndyCar, the consolidation of sports car racing, new people joining our teams, our sponsors believing in what we’re doing and growing their relationships with us. We’re blessed and ready to go racing!

-Bobby

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