LONG BEACH, Calif. – Oriol Servia projects a four-race stint in a second Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car becoming a multi-year opportunity.
Servia, 39, will make his 192nd Indy car start in the 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend in the No. 16 Honda-powered car as a companion to the No. 15 entry driven by Graham Rahal. In 12 starts on the temporary street course dating to 2000, Servia has a best finish of second (2007) among five top 10s.
The Los Angeles resident competed in 12 races last season for Panther Racing, with Long Beach among his four top-10 finishes. Long Beach is the start of four consecutive races for Servia, who drove for the team in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. He envisions something more long term.
“I’m looking at this opportunity as one I’ve never had – to build a program that I can take the profit off the build in Year 2 and 3,” said Servia, who will have Eddie Jones as his race engineer. “If we put the team together and we start getting successful as we should, there’s no reason why we cannot find proper sponsorship that will allow us to have two or three good seasons together. That’s what you need to challenge the top teams year after year. Like any other sport, you need continuity to beat the top teams. It takes time to get the best out of each other, so I hope we’re being stronger and longer.”
Rahal, in his second season with the team co-owned by his father, made up seven positions from his 21st starting spot in the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener March 30 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in the National Guard-sponsored car. He advanced nine spots on the first of the 110 laps.
“There are a things happening that are all positive and re-energizing the team,” noted Servia, who was Rahal’s teammate at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing for four races in ‘09. “One is getting the National Guard as a sponsor. I’ve been lucky to be around them the last couple of years and gotten to know so many members of the Guard. It’s more than a sponsor, and then you have a team that has had huge success in the past – the team and Graham -- but last year they had a bit of a disappointing season in terms of results.
“They changed a lot of the engineering crew, hired a lot of new people and everybody is energized to get results. The fact that they have me in the second car also shows they’ll do whatever it takes to be competitive, and that’s why I feel lucky to be part of the organization and the effort.”
Will anyone catch Unser?
Al Unser Jr., who will compete in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race on April 12, has won six Indy car races at Long Beach (including four in a row).
Paul Tracy, who will join NBCSN’s qualifying and race telecasts this weekend, and Mario Andretti have won four times. Andretti, the grand marshal for the 40th annual race, won the 1977 Formula One race on the city streets in addition to the 1984, ’85 and ’87 CART-sanctioned races. Andretti also is tied for the most poles (three) with Will Power, Michael Andretti and Gil de Ferran.
Sebastien Bourdais of KVSH Racing is the active leader with three wins (in a row) at Long Beach. Power has won twice.
“I had some success at Long Beach when I raced in Champ Cars. The last few years have been more difficult, but based on how good the KVSH Racing car was in St. Petersburg I am looking forward to debuting the Mistic machine this weekend in Long Beach,” Bourdais said.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, addressing more than 300 elementary school students April 8 in Birmingham, Ala., spoke of the importance of an education and being physically fit. The Andretti Autosport driver is the defending winner of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, which is April 25-27 at Barber Motorsports Park. … Unser, sixth on the list of career Indy car victories with 34, is the next target for reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon (33 wins). In seven starts at Long Beach, Dixon has one top-10 finish. … Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz competed on the Long Beach circuit in Indy Lights last year, and will make their Verizon IndyCar Series debut on the course along with Mikhail Aleshin and Carlos Huertas. Juan Pablo Montoya won the 1999 race, though it was on a different course configuration. … Tony Kanaan, the pole sitter for the’99 race, will attempt to extend his record consecutive start streak to 217. … Paul Rodgers of Bad Company takes the Rock-N-Roar Concert stage at 6:45 p.m. April 12. The concert is free to race ticket-holders.