Why Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Swapped Drivers On IndyCar Team

Dropping a story the day before Thanksgiving probably isn’t going to get much attention. Many households are shopping for the Thanksgiving Day feast or traveling to meet friends and relatives for one of the centerpiece holidays of the year.

That is why last week’s news that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was swapping two of its drivers on the three-driver NTT IndyCar Series team probably went unnoticed, even by the most diehard of racing fan.

So, here are the details. Jack Harvey, who drove the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda in 2022, has moved over to the No. 30 Honda previously driven by NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Christian Lundgaard of Denmark.

Lundgaard moves from the No. 30 to become the driver of the No. 45. In doing so, he becomes the driver sponsored by Hy-Vee, a highly successful supermarket chain in the Midwest based in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Hy-Vee has heavily invested in the NTT IndyCar Series. It revived the nearly dormant Iowa Speedway to create one of the great weekends of the season in 2022 – the Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend.

With back-to-back races including two big-name concerts on each day, the Saturday/Sunday IndyCar doubleheader drew upwards of 80,000 fans over the two days.

Hy-Vee is also expanding its chain into three new areas including Indianapolis, Nashville, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama. Those three markets are home to races on the NTT IndyCar schedule including the biggest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan is hoping to maximize Hy-Vee’s exposure on the race track and believe Lundgaard can deliver in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda.

The team believes the Hy-Vee Honda can be racing its way to the front of the field, which delivers valuable television exposure to give Hy-Vee a higher return on its investment in the NTT IndyCar Series and with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Last season, Lundgaard finished 14th in the NTT IndyCar Series championship with a best finish of second in the Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30. He finished fifth in the final race of the season, the September 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Harvey struggled in his first season at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, finishing 22nd in the final standings with just one top 10 finish.

Off the track, however, Harvey was quite popular with Hy-Vee. He was utilized in many of the supermarket chain’s promotions including life-size cardboard standups of the driver in many of its stores.

“We have been looking at ways to ensure our increased performance and improve our potential for success for 2023 and one of our decisions has been to reassign cars to Jack and Christian,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of RLL. “We made a commitment to our drivers, team members and sponsors to perform at our highest level possible and although 2022 didn’t work out as we wanted, we have made moves to improve this.

“One of which was the commitment we made when we hired Technical Director Stefano Sordo, who can bring a new perspective. We feel this recent decision on our driver/car lineup will also be a positive one for both Jack and Christian as well as our organization.”

Sordo has more than 20 years of engineering experience with top Formula One teams and joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan as the team’s technical director on October 1.

Sordo spent the past six seasons with McLaren Racing F1 as head and director of vehicle performance. Before that, he was with Red Bull Racing F1, among other teams. He will oversee a multitiered engineering structure at the team’s new headquarters in Zionsville, Indiana.

“I’m very excited to be joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s team in the IndyCar Series,” Sordo said. “It is a very challenging and very competitive series where I think every competitor can have a chance at winning every time they participate in a race, providing you get all the ingredients right.

“The excitement of this new role for me is to challenge myself and see if with the experience and methodology developed through many years spent in F1 I can help the team moving forward in becoming a consistent, front-running team. This is the clear challenge and target that I set for myself, and I look forward to getting started. I would like to thank Bobby (Rahal) and Mike (Lanigan) for this opportunity and their trust in my abilities, and I hope I can repay them with successes at the track.”

Hy-Vee will continue as the full-season, primary sponsor of the No. 45 entry as part of a multi-year agreement. Details on primary sponsorship for the No. 30 entry will be announced in the coming months.

Hy-Vee will also be present on the No. 30 entry as an associate sponsor as part of their teamwide associate sponsorship.

In 2023, Harvey will begin his fourth full season in IndyCar. His best start to date is second place in the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and 2020 GMR Grand Prix and his best finish is third in the 2019 Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Rahal was convinced that Lundgaard had the potential to become a solid driver in one of his Indy cars, even if he was unknown in North America.

Rahal relied on his connections.

“I have compatriots in Europe that I’ve trusted over the years, and everybody said, ‘You’ve got to give this guy Christian Lundgaard a shot. He’s the real deal,’” Rahal recalled. “So, we agreed, and we asked Christian to drive at the Harvest Grand Prix a year ago. He put it fourth on the grid.

“Even more importantly, I think helped develop a car in that short period of time, helped develop the car, gave us some direction on the car. That paid off for us the remainder of the year. Graham (Rahal) was fourth at Monterey last year. He was leading Portland. Much of the setup on that came from the bindings that we got through Christian at Indy.

“We just felt that the results at Indy weren’t great because he, Graham, a couple others had food poisoning, so they weren’t in their best condition.

“But you don’t perform like that — it’s not a fluke when you perform like that. There’s substance to that.

“We felt that Christian could be very good. He’s very young, and we’re also looking at the future, and we thought, ‘Yeah, this is a guy that we want to have in this team for now and for the future.’”

So here was a driver from Denmark who was part of the European ladder system and apparently had his focus on Formula One. But he took a different path and may have found himself a home in IndyCar.

“I’ve watched IndyCar before,” Lundgaard said. “Actually, I would say I’ve watched many road courses and street circuits because I still follow F1. I still follow some junior categories. I even still follow some go-kart races. I would say I did before coming over here.

“When I got the opportunity to test at Barber Motorsports Park, I wouldn’t say no anyway, because I like the challenge of a new car just to drive the car and get to know America.

“But I fell in love with it, and I’m here, and I love it. I won’t leave.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucemartin/2022/11/28/why-rahal-letterman-lanigan-racing-swapped-drivers-on-indycar-team/