RLL Racing - Racer, entertainer and businessman in the same mission
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, or RLL Racing, is the team based in Hilliard, Ohio, and owned by three well-known persons – former IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal, former television talk show host David Letterman, and businessman Mike Lanigan.
The team was founded in 1992 as Rahal-Hogan Racing and that same year the team fielded a car in PPG Indy Car World Series. Bobby Rahal was the driver and he became a champion for the third time in his career. He won four races that year before grabbing the title ahead of Michael Andretti.
The following year, Rahal-Hogan team acquired the Truesports racing team and moved its headquarters from Indianapolis to the old Truesport’s facilities in Hilliard. Rahal continued as an owner-driver and in selected events was joined by Mike Groff. However, that year wasn’t as good as the previous one. Rahal failed to score a win and finished 4th in the standings.
The same driver line-up has competed in 1994 when Rahal-Hogan introduced the Honda V8 engine to the series but that partnership didn’t last for too long. Bobby Rahal dropped to the 10th place in the standings which was quite disappointing and the team split with the Japanese manufacturer. Next year, Rahal was teamed with Raul Boesel and the things improved. Despite not winning the race, Rahal finished 3rd overall.
In 1996, Rahal and Hogan parted ways and the team changed its name to Team Rahal. At the same time, racing enthusiast David Letterman purchased a small share of the team which started a new phase. That year wasn’t perfect but Rahal and Bryan Herta scored a couple of notable results before finishing 6th and 7th in the standings respectively.
The following year was pretty tough. Both Rahal and Herta struggled during the season, so they dropped out of Top 10 in the final classification.
End of the winless streak
In 1998, the team finally won the race. Rahal and Herta were still the drivers for the third year in a row and Brian was the one who broke a five-year- long winless streak by triumphing at Laguna Seca. He finished 8th in the standings that year, while Rahal was 10th.
Rahal retired as a driver in 1999 and was replaced with Max Papis. Herta again won at Laguna Seca, but Papis was the one who had an upper hand in the final standings as he took the 5th position. In 2000, Papis was teamed with Kenny Brack. Italian racer won the season-opening event in Miami, but at the end of the season Swedish racer was better as he finished 4th overall.
Good start of the new century
Papis and Brack stayed with the team in 2001 and they both enjoyed a very good season driving Lola-Ford cars. Brack finished the season as a runner-up, with four race wins on his account, while Papis won twice before finishing 6th in the standings.
Both drivers left the team in 2002 when Jimmy Vasser and Michel Jourdain Jr were brought to Rahal Racing. The results declined because only one win was achieved, at Fontana, by Vasser who at the end of the campaign was 7th overall, while Jourdain was 10th.
In 2003, the team fielded only one car, driven by Jourdain in the CART Series, but also fielded a car driven by Kenny Brack in the IndyCar Series. Jourdain had a good season and won two races before taking the 3rd position overall. Brack’s results weren’t as good and he was 9th in the IndyCar Series.
Another change of the name
In 2004, the team again changed its name to Rahal Letterman Racing and competed in the IndyCar Series with two cars. Buddy Rice won at Indianapolis, later he also won at Kansas and Michigan, and eventually finished 3rd in the standings. The team’s second driver Vitor Meira missed the opening two rounds but he did well during the season. He took the 7th place in the championship.
The team expanded to three cars in 2005 but Rice, Meira, nor Danica Patrick weren’t able to win the race. Meira finished 2nd at Indy 500 and was the team’s leading driver after finishing 7th overall. Danica Patrick finished 4th at Indianapolis which was the highest finish of any female driver in the history of that race. She also won Rookie of The Year Award.
Years of struggling
The season of 2006 was one of the worst in the team’s history after none of three drivers was able to score Top 3 finish out of 13 races that team has entered. The driver line-up was overhauled in 2007. Scott Sharp was driving a car #8, while Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jeff Simmons shared their duties in car #17. Sharp finished 8th overall.
Hunter-Reay stayed as the team’s only driver in 2008. He won the race at Watkins Glen before finishing 8th in the championship. That was the last year until 2012 in which Rahal Letterman Racing had a full-time entry in the IndyCar Series. In the next three seasons, due to a lack of sponsorship, the team entered only Indianapolis 500 but without too much success.
Lanigan joins Rahal and Letterman
After two hard seasons, the light at the end of the tunnel was seen in December of 2010. Businessman Mike Lanigan became one of the owners and ensured financial stability.
In 2012, IndyCar Series RLL Racing was represented with one car, driven by Takuma Sato. The Japanese had several good performances but his 14th place overall didn’t match team’s ambitions. In 2013, RLL Racing had two cars on the grid, with Graham Rahal and James Jakes as the drivers. However, the results were even worse than in the previous campaign which is why the team decided to reduce its program to only one car to race full season from 2014.
The season of 2014 wasn’t the glorious one after Graham Rahal finished 19th overall. However, the son of the team founder did much better in the next two years. In 2015, he won the races at Fontana and Mid-Ohio before finishing 4th in the championship, while in 2016 Rahal was 5th after winning the race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Debut in the American Le Mans Series
In 2007, then-Rahal Letterman Racing debuted in the American Le Mans Series GT class. The team fielded a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR for 9 out of 12 races, with drivers Tommy Milner and Ralf Kelleners. Their best result was the 3rd place at Petit Le Mans, while the team finished 4th in the GT2 class championship.
After missing the season of 2008, Rahal Letterman Racing returned to the series in 2009 as one of the BMW-backed teams. With two BMW M3 GT2s on the grid, the team finished 3rd in the GT2 standings. Rahal Letterman Racing scored its maiden victory in the series when Joey Hand and Bill Auberlen won the race at Road America.
Two consecutive ALMS titles
Partnership with BMW was crowned in 2010 when the team won the ALMS Teams’ title in GT class despite winning only one race at Road America, while Bill Auberlen and Tommy Milner finished 3rd in the Drivers’ championship. The team’s second car driven by Dirk Muller and Joey Hand also did well, so they finished 7th in the standings.
The following year was even more successful. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s BMW driven by Dirk Muller and Joey Hand won the title after scoring three wins, including 12 Hours of Sebring. Drivers of the team’s second car Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner finished 3rd in the Drivers’ championship.
In 2012, Muller and Hand, with a help of Jonathan Summerton, won the Sebring 12h for the second time but their BMW during the season couldn’t parry to the new Porsches and Corvettes, so the team lost its crown to Corvette Racing.
The season of 2013 was the last one before the American Le Mans Series merged with USCC. RLL Racing fielded two new BMW Z4s. The results improved in comparison to the previous year, but the team for the second year in a row finished the season as a vice-champion, again behind Corvette Racing.
RLL Racing in the USCC
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s beginning in the new championship was relatively good even though none of two BMW’s scored a victory in GTLM class. Dirk Muller and John Edwards finished 7th in the Drivers’ Championship, while Bill Auberlen and Andy Priaulx were 8th.
Muller left the team in 2015 and was replaced with Lucas Luhr, another successful and experienced driver, while Dirk Werner returned as a replacement for Priaulx. That year was much better and two RLL Racing’s crews shared a total of three wins – at Long Beach, Laguna Seca, and Circuit of the Americas. Auberlen and Werner finished the season as runners-up while Luhr and Edwards were 5th in the standings.
The driver line-up remained unchanged in 2016 but the results were below the expectations. The RLL Racing’s BMWs have not won a single race, so it wasn’t surprising when two crews dropped to the 7th and 9th position in the standings respectively.
For the 2017 campaign, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing prepared two BMW M6 GTLM with a changed driver line-up. Former DTM champion Martin Tomczyk joined the team, as well as the British driver Alexander Sims, while Luhr and Werner left the team.