Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing split its assets for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, threading off into two connected entities as a new decade began.
The standard name banner still flew with the flagship team, but an offshoot technical partnership with Citrone/Buhl Autosport provided RLL with an additional entry in two races.
Outside of Chip Ganassi Racing, RLL’s main stable was the only other team to have all its cars run the full season. Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato filled the two full-time seats in the Nos. 15 and 30, respectively, marking their third consecutive year as teammates.
The Citrone/Buhl offshoot fielded Spencer Pigot, who ran a No. 45 entry in the first Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course event and later in the Indianapolis 500.
Sato provided the highlight of the season when he battled Ganassi driver (and eventual champion) Scott Dixon tooth and nail in the waning laps of the Indianapolis 500 and was out front when the caution that ended the race was displayed.
However, his season didn’t get off to the best of starts; a crash in qualifying for the first race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway derailed the No. 30 team’s plans for the event, and the crew was not able to repair the car in time for the race. Sato was credited with a last-place finish.
The Brickyard triumph was the second such victory of Sato’s career, though, and was the first of two back-to-back podiums (the second at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway’s first event) for the No. 30. The Japan native capped the run off with a pole in the second Gateway race, fading back during the race but finishing ninth. He still finished seventh in the standings, despite suffering four finishes outside the top 10 in the final five races.
Outside of three straight top 10s in the first three road course events, Sato struggled on that configuration all year; his best finish on a road course the rest of the season was 10th. He did take care of his equipment, though, as the No. 30 was running at the finish of every race; Sato was credited with one DNF in 2020, but that was a result of failing to start the Texas opener.
Meanwhile, Rahal’s struggles continued; 2020 was the third straight year in which he did not score a win, having last visited victory lane in 2017. He started things off well in the second race of the season with a runner-up effort at the Indianapolis road course, also scoring back-to-back podiums at the second Iowa Speedway race and the Indianapolis 500. Rahal also reeled off five straight top-10 finishes to close out the season.
However, the son of CART champion Bobby Rahal stocked up with three podium finishes, bettering his teammate by one spot in the year-end standings as well.
Rahal seemed to excel equally on both types of track configurations, but road courses were kinder to the 31-year-old in 2020. Coming off 2019, when he scored eight straight top-10 efforts almost equally split between the two layouts, Rahal recorded seven top 10s just on road courses in 2020.
Pigot didn’t exactly have much to write home about in 2020. After spending two full seasons with Ed Carpenter Racing, Pigot was the driver on the outside looking in for that team’s 2020 lineup, and RLL, which fielded Pigot in his first three premier series events in 2016, stepped up with the Citrone/Buhl partnership.
With a very limited schedule, Pigot managed to lead a single lap at the summer Indianapolis Grand Prix, starting 16th but climbing into the top 10 by lap 12. He was sitting in seventh with less than 20 laps to go, but the No. 45’s engine gave out six laps away from the checkered flag.
A month and a half later, Pigot returned to the Brickyard for the series’ most prestigious race; he had recorded a career-best of 14th in the event in 2019.
Pigot was running 15th with five laps left when he lost control of the car out of the final corner, spinning against the outside wall before sliding down directly into the pit wall attenuator. The impact sent the car ricocheting back out onto the track, where he avoided being hit by any other cars but was clearly shaken up.
He was taken to the hospital as a precaution but was released without treatment. The 500 marked the last of his two races in 2020, in which he finished 24th and 25th, respectively.
While no offshoot partnerships have been announced, Rahal and Sato return to their respective cars for their fourth season as teammates.
Pigot, meanwhile, has not announced any IndyCar plans for 2021.