Who will drive the No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing NTT IndyCar Series entry in the future? The answer to that question is something Bobby Rahal and his team’s co-owners are looking to find across the majority of the races left on the calendar as they plan for a three-car program in 2022.
With Graham Rahal holding a permanent home in the No. 15 RLL Honda and Takuma Sato in talks to extend his tenure in the Indy 500-winning No. 30 Honda, the team’s sights are set on exploring more driving talent with its part-time No. 45 entry.
“We’re definitely going to be running the third car at Nashville,” the three-time CART IndyCar Series champion told RACER. “And then, of course, the last three races at this stage. Not sure about the Harvest Grand Prix (at Indianapolis), doubtful for Gateway. But we are going to be doing more races and we are looking at potential drivers.
“First, let me say we’ve been pretty pleased with the job Santino (Ferrucci) has done. He’s really impressed us. I think you can probably expect to see him do some more races.”
Although Rahal wouldn’t be drawn on the list of other candidates, he did acknowledge a few names that have been on RLL’s IndyCar radar for a few years. Through the BMW Team Rahal IMSA program, Antonio Felix da Costa has been on the fringes of its IndyCar interest for a while. Factory Acura IMSA DPi driver Ricky Taylor, who tested an Indy car for Roger Penske in 2016, has been spoken of in the past by Rahal as a driver he’d like to evaluate, and sports car champion Colin Braun has also been on his list. Throw in an Oliver Askew to the mix, and RLL isn’t lacking for options.
“We are looking at bringing other people in,” he added. “I think da Costa is not going to happen, but there’s others out there. We have some time on our hands before we have to make a decision. Ricky, I’ve spoken about him before; I think he’s pretty committed to the IMSA world but I like Ricky a lot. So we’ll just have to see where we end up.”
Rahal also hopes to get Sato’s future in the No. 30 Honda resolved in short order.
“I think there’s interest on both sides, and we see no reason why that relationship can’t go on,” he said of the five-year team veteran who holds 10th in the championship, one spot behind Rahal in the No. 15. “But we obviously aren’t ready to announce next year’s drivers at this point.”
Beyond sampling one or more new drivers to the team, RLL’s desire to continue fielding the No. 45 this season has a secondary motivation. In four starts for RLL, Connecticut’s Ferrucci has been a revelation at times, earning four top 10 finishes which began with a strong run to sixth at the Indy 500.
Thanks to the points accrued over those events, the No. 45 holds 21st in Entrants points, and with the top 22 in the final standings earning a lucrative $1 million Leaders Circle contract from IndyCar for the following season, keeping the third car in motion could help RLL’s budget in 2022.
Whether it’s Ferrucci or others in the No. 45 to close the year, securing more quality finishes and securing a Leaders Circle contract has become a legitimate business move for RLL to consider.
“The Leaders Circle situation may well drive our decision to do, let’s say, the Harvest Grand Prix, where we wouldn’t have before if there wasn’t a contract in play,” Rahal said. “We’re in the thick of it now, so you’ve got to factor that into what we do.”