The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season kicks off this weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg with Graham Rahal looking to get his year off to a strong start in the No.15 Steak N’Shake Honda. Rahal had an incredible 2015 season ending the year in fourth place in the championship.
Rahal took two victories in Fontana and Mid Ohio. Speaking about last years event and his hopes for this weekend, Rahal commented by saying:
Last year did set a tone for our competitiveness. I felt like we had a great car in the race but we just got a little unlucky with the penalty. I think this year we should be even better. We should be able to qualify right up towards the front and hopefully get our season started off in the right direction.
This season, Rahal is joined at RLLR by Verizon IndyCar Series newcomer Spencer Pigot who will drive the No.16 Honda. The American has a 50% win rate at St Pete and speaking about the race there he stated:
St. Pete has always been a great track for me. I’ve won there five times now and never finished worse than fourth so I’m hoping to keep the run of good finishes going. I think if I were able to finish in the top 10 this weekend that would be a good result.
Last year, Rahal finished the season opener at St Pete in 11th place and speaking about racing on the circuit he said:
St. Petersburg is a great track for me. It’s definitely one of my favorites of the entire season. Obviously with starting my career off and getting my first win and my first pole position there, it holds a special place in my heart. The atmosphere and the fans make it such an enjoyable weekend and such an enjoyable place to go race. I just can’t wait to get back and get the season started. I think the track is just very demanding; it leaves very little margin for error and I feel like one of my strengths is driving a race without making too many mistakes. I really enjoy the mix of high-speed and low-speed corners and that makes it fun and makes and entertaining to drive. I think the race will be extremely entertaining this year. With St. Petersburg always being the first race of the season, there is a lot of action, a lot of drivers that are eager to get out and show how much work and how much effort they put into the off-season. Everybody wants a great result and everybody wants to start the season off in the right direction.
Speaking about what he can expect from being an IndyCar Series driver having made the step up from Indy Lights, Pigot commented by saying:
Since I was six or seven, I have been watching IndyCar races and when I started karting a few years later I haven’t wanted to do anything else but be an IndyCar driver. IndyCar became a serious goal when I started racing cars at 16 and I’ve been working towards it ever since. The first race in St. Pete that I went to was in 2009 and ever since then I have wanted to be driving an IndyCar in that event. I thought Indy Lights was going to be a two year program and that hopefully I would be racing in the 2017 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg but we were able to win the championship in our first year so I’m here a year earlier than I expected.
Rahal commented on the new season, the aero kits and the work over the winter by engine supplier Honda by saying:
The aero kits have definitely made the entire season interesting. I think we all have questions going forward on how they’re going to race this year, how reliable they’re going to be, and ultimately will we, as a Honda team, be able to get as many wins and podiums as we did last season. Honda certainly put in a lot of work throughout the off-season. It’s hard for us to tell exactly where we stand heading into this year but I definitely think the work that they put in will pay off and that we as a team will do everything we can to make them proud and lead the charge for Honda all season long
Pigot joins fellow Indy Lights graduate, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton in making the step up to IndyCar in 2016 and speaking about the St Pete road course the American commented by saying:
I think the toughest part of the track is Turns 4-8. You can gain or lose a lot of time in that section. All of the corners are in the shadow of buildings and trees so it can be tough to get a good view of the walls and how close you’re getting to them. The race itself is going to be a big challenge. Indy Lights races are much shorter and have no pit stops so that will be new to me and I’ll have to do a lot of learning throughout the race.
So what has changed at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing from 2015 to 2016? Rahal explains:
Really we have not changed very much since last year. I think one of the main things that we needed this season was consistency, and I think that’s what we focused on through the off-season and kept the exact same people in place going into 2016. We added one new crew guy in Kyle Sagan but everybody else remains the same. The guys work so well together so there is no reason to fix what’s not broken.
Speaking about the differences between an Indy Lights chassis and IndyCar chassis, Spencer Pigot commented by saying:
On track the cars are very different. The Indy car is much bigger, more powerful and has a lot more downforce than the Indy Lights car. The races are twice as long with pit stops, different tire compounds and strategies so there will be a lot for me to learn in my first race at St. Pete. Off track, there is a lot more to do with the media being an IndyCar driver. You definitely don’t have as much time to relax and prepare for the race because you are constantly doing something.
Rahal spoke about the momentum that IndyCar has heading into the 2016 season by saying:
I think there is a lot of momentum behind IndyCar this season. We have seen a great amount of success with sponsors in the off-season, and I think that will only continue to grow. I’m really eager to get the 2016 season underway and continue to do the best we possibly can and make all of our sponsors and team partners proud this season.
So is Pigot nervous about making his Verizon IndyCar Series race debut this weekend?
Sometimes I get a little nervous before a race, maybe a three or four on a 1-10 scale. It might be a little higher at St. Pete because it’s my first race but the nerves always go away as soon as we take off for the formation laps.