Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing heads into the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg presented by RP Funding with high hopes following a solid pre-season test at Sebring International Raceway, for Graham Rahal, in the No.15 Fifth Third Bank Honda, St Pete holds special memories as it was the scene of his maiden NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory on his debut in 2008.

The 2023 season was solid at the end. I definitely want to make sure we start this year off well though. It would be great to get a pole, get a win early in the season. A handful of good results would put us in contention and allow us to get to the midsummer part of the season in a better position than we have been in the last few years.
“The off-season felt very slow with the lack of testing. However, on the shop side of things, there was a lot going on, and a lot of new people joining the team over the winter. We’ve seen some positives for sure and I’m eager to see how our performance can be as we go into the start of the year.
“We ran a bunch of test laps at Sebring (Feb. 27). I thought the new tire Firestone brought was pretty good. The durability was strong, which allowed us to get through a lot of things on our checklist, which was great. I’m looking forward to seeing how any of the gains that we made there help us as we go into St. Pete. I thought there were some good things we learned for sure, and we were competitive across all three cars which was good to see. It’s definitely cool to have won at St. Pete but it’s been a long time. I’ve had a couple of good results here as of late, but I definitely want to see us be at the sharp end of the grid. We don’t want to come from mid-pack and have to go forward. We’d like to be at the sharp end and make our lives a lot easier. It will be important to start strong and get a good result for Fifth Third Bank.”

Pietro Fittipaldi makes his full-time return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this weekend. Since the announcement of his return in October of last year he has been busy with Formula One duties for the Haas F1 Team as the Brazilian-American is the test and reserve driver for the North Carolina-based F1 team.

Fittipaldi, the grandson of 1989 INDYCAR SERIES champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi is excited to get back on track this weekend.

Since the announcement in October, I still had the remaining Formula One races to go to and tested for Haas F1 in Abu Dhabi. After the testing finished in December, I came straight to Indianapolis and moved into my new apartment 10 minutes from the team in Zionsville. I went straight from finishing one season and straight into another one. It’s been very exciting getting used to living in Indianapolis and getting to know the team, using the Honda static sim weekly which has been very good to get me up to speed. We only had two test days before St. Pete so there was a lot for me to learn. I’m going into many tracks that I don’t know, only four of the 16 tracks, we will race on so using the simulator is a very important tool. I have also been seeing my teammates from time to time. Christian and Graham are great guys and there is a lot I can learn from them. I’m looking forward to the start of the season.
“I have been training a lot. Last year I was racing in the World Endurance Championship, alongside my reserve driver role in F1 and, for endurance racing, the lighter the driver is, the lighter the car is so if I was lighter I could gain performance so I lost a lot of weight from my normal weight – probably 15 pounds. And now shifting my focus to INDYCAR, I believe that the heavier and bigger you are, is a performance advantage. If you are lighter, you have to put ballast in the car so at the end of the day everyone is going to weigh the same but if you’re heavier and stronger, it’s much better for the driver in INDYCAR because the car is so physical to drive. So, my focus in the off season was putting on weight. I gained around 20-25 pounds in three months just by changing my training to one that is fully focused on strength. And I was eating a lot more just to gain that size for the physicality of driving the INDYCAR.
“An INDYCAR is much heavier with no power steering so it’s really a beast to drive. You have to really hustle the car around the track to produce a lap time. Whatever car you race in, the principals are always the same. You need to be good under breaking, you need to know how to extract a lap time on new tires and understand the tire degradation for the race runs. The principals are the same but every car and series has its own characteristics and that what’s new to me.
“Pre-season testing has been great. We’ve been able to tick all the boxes we wanted in testing in terms of the setup as well as all the things I wanted to learn before St. Pete. There is a lot more to learn as the season goes on but we’re in a good place. St. Pete is one of the toughest tracks in my opinion. It’s a short track but it has some interesting characteristics and takes a lot of rhythm to be able to produce very quick lap times there so the goal going into the event is being patient, turning up the volume as the weekend goes and really extracting the most out of the car when it counts in qualifying and the race but we know it’s not going to be easy. We’re starting at one of the toughest tracks of the calendar so it’s about continuous progression throughout the season. That’s the way I want to see it. So going into St. Pete, I’m going in calm, executing, maximizing what we can do that weekend and then continuously progressing throughout the season. That’s the goal.
“I’ve been to the St. Pete race once as a spectator and I think it’s a great event. It’s packed with fans and it’s a race in Florida so it’s almost like a hometown race for me. I was born and raised in Miami. St. Pete is a bit far from Miami but it’s as close as we’re going to get. I’ve been watching a lot of race footage and onboard video and I can tell it’s a tough little track. It’s one of those tracks that looks simple but it’s not. And it’s going to be tough to master it. I’m looking forward to it.”

Christian Lundgaard is entering his third full-time season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and hopes to build on a hugely successful 2023 season in which he scored his maiden series victory at the Honda Indy Toronto.

Looking ahead to this weekend’s opening race of the year in St Petersburg, Lundgaard said:

The 2023 season is one we can rate higher than 2022 for sure. We made improvements on true results and by the end of the season, based on where we ended up, the paper tells the story. We were disappointed with how the season started but we managed to turn things around which is an extremely tough task to do as well, so I’m proud of everyone for doing that. We got two poles and a win on the 45 car, so I’m proud of that and, as a team, having four poles and tying for second-most with Team Penske across the paddock is a positive. Hopefully we can improve that for 2024.
“The off season has been extremely long, too long to be honest. It’s been six months without being in the car and having one productive day of testing before going into the first race of the season but luckily, we ended up being pretty competitive at the Sebring test. We weren’t so much at Homestead for that January test, but I also didn’t really think we were going to use that test for anything because we don’t race there and not much information transfers to other tracks. But there has been a lot of communication behind the scenes with my crew, my race engineer Ben, Tim (Trowbridge) who moved up from data engineer to performance engineer, Tom (Vigne, chief mechanic) and the new people coming into the team. I think we have made a lot of progress. The ambitions are high, and the emotions are there. We’re all pretty excited to get into the 2024 season and obviously personally I’m pretty excited. I feel ready to get going to see if we can bring the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda into victory lane again and hopefully do it in the first race of the season.
“If I compare the 2023 season to the 2024 season, feeling-wise, having left Sebring, I feel a lot better than I think I would have done had we not done the test. I think there were a lot of unknowns before testing in Sebring just because of the lack of testing. It was the one day of testing we had before the season and the 2022 and 2023 St. Pete experience was very similar in terms of performance but I do feel like, leaving Sebring, I feel more confident that we gained performance being fifth (Graham) and seventh (Christian) fastest across the two days between the 15 and the 45 cars so the potential is there. We just need to execute in St. Pete. Obviously, Sebring is the one track that we can replicate to a street course like St. Pete. We found some good tools, we improved the car and put it in a better window so there is a lot to be excited for.”

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