A new, modern shop that will soon be under construction in Zionsville, Indiana, will provide Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing a chance to further expand its operation in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The 100,000 square-foot facility was announced by the team Oct. 7 and won’t be completed until 2021 or 2022. Once it is finished, it will be a centerpiece of the Zionsville community.
“This will be a showcase for the whole team and a point of pride for the owners and every team member here that we are working on such a beautiful facility,” said RLL team manager Rico Nault.
From a team aspect, the new shop will give Rahal Letterman Lanigan all of the resources it needs to field teams in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in one facility. The INDYCAR team now operates out of a shop in an industrial park in Brownsburg, Indiana, with the sports car operation in Hilliard, Ohio, just outside of Columbus.
“It’s going to make it more efficient and economical and easier on people,” said RLL team principal Bobby Rahal. “We have people spending several days a week in Columbus and then turning around and coming home. This will be a better situation than having multiple facilities in different parts of the country.”
Efficiency and economy create a better working environment, which means better productivity and competitiveness.
“This new shop will have the IMSA guys in the same room as the INDYCAR team, and we can share ideas and help each other out a little bit,” Nault said. “We are really busy in May, and they are very busy in January with Daytona. We will keep engineering separate because each manufacturer has their secret sauce that we want to keep confidential, but they can talk to each other on a daily basis.
“Once we get manufacturing in-house in Indianapolis, that will help in your day-to-day operation.”
The Hilliard shop is the original TrueSports shop that began as a maintenance facility for Red Roof Inns. When Red Roof Inn owner Jim Trueman started a CART team in the 1970s and early 1980s, he added on to that facility to create a race shop in 1984.
Decades later, the Hilliard shop remains fully functional, with the machine shop and damper development program run out of Ohio while the rest of the INDYCAR operation was three hours away in Brownsburg.
The Hilliard operation is the last of the “old school” INDYCAR shops. According to Rahal, at that time, Indy car teams were not big, and the Ohio facility was fine. But it was never intended to be a single-purpose building, and the design doesn’t work by today’s standards.
“They built room after room after room, and it was the land of many doors,” Nault said. “We have paint booths there, machines and equipment. We can do anything over there.”
But it wasn’t convenient for running a full-time INDYCAR operation. In 2012, RLL took over a few units in an industrial park, originally with four units and now eight units.
“We blasted through the walls and went from four to eight of these units, and it is still too small for us,” Nault said. “I always thought we had quite a lot to work with here. It was not as beautiful as we wanted, but it was functional.
“Now we will function and the beauty. It will be a thing to behold. It will be quite a jewel.”
The new shop will eliminate the time-consuming effort of running parts from Indianapolis to Columbus on Interstate 70. With some of the INDYCAR equipment made in Ohio, team members often must make a run over to Ohio to pick up the pieces and work on those parts.
Once both teams are under one roof, it will become much more efficient.
“Right now, in Indy, we don’t have the ability to paint a car, and there are no CNC laser mills here,” Nault said. “The mills in Columbus are getting old in the tooth, and we need some new ones with new capabilities and new paint booths. It will be all start of the art. We will be able to design the car to build the car to campaign the car.”
The new facility also will help with sponsorship activities and entertainment. It will have the ability to host functions in the 15,000 square-foot lobby.
“The opportunity is also there for local charitable organizations to have meetings to tie the relationship between our company and the Town of Zionsville,” Rahal said. “It was important if we were going to build something like this to respond to something to tie the relationship to us and the partners.”
There will be areas upstairs for training functions and larger team meetings. The machine shop will be branded to help show off some of the team’s technical sponsors with the machines the team uses to build the cars that compete in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and IMSA.
Engineering will also have a room where some of the engineering staffs can monitor functions of the car at a race from afar, without being on site.
The shop will be located on Michigan Road at 106th Street in the booming northwest suburb of Zionsville.
It is another step in the growing commitment to racing by RLL as it moves toward a dream of becoming a three-car operation for the full series.
“This building is big enough to become a four-car INDYCAR operation and a multi-car sports car operation, as well,” Nault said. “We have bays for eight Indy cars and eight sports cars, counting the backups. We are exploring the options to make that happen and it will make things easier to do that and recruit more talent.
“The commitment shows RLL is here for the long haul.”