After a 2016 season that left him wanting more, Sean Rayhall has set the bar high for 2017 with one thing on his mind: winning. “I want to win everything,” the young American driver told Slipstream. “I want every purple sector I can get, I want every pole.” The stock car driver-turned sports car ace has found lots of success in his short career, but is unsatisfied with his 2016 season.
Never being too shy to try something new, Rayhall proved his versatility and quick-learning style last year while driving Porsche Caymans, LMP3 prototypes, LMPC prototypes, the DeltaWing, and even a 360 Sprint Car at a local dirt track near Road America. Despite the variety of machinery driven, he came out of 2016 with only a handful of top five finishes and no podiums.
The lack of spectacular results last year could be chalked up to an array of new challenges, but Rayhall’s keen to make no excuses. “The first year I’ve ever had since I was seven years old where I haven’t podiumed was last year,” the driver said. “I didn’t win a race or podium last year.” Despite his determined attitude and unwillingness to blame circumstance, he found himself in with added challenge last season.
Rayhall’s 2016 campaign in the European Le Mans Series was a new experience for him and his co-drivers. Aside from the normal challenges of getting acquainted with a new series, there was the added complication of a language barrier between the French-speaking crew at Graff Racing and the driving trio of John Falb, Enzo Potolicchio and Rayhall. This coupled with the fact that the LMP3 class was only going into its second year with a relatively new Ligier LMP3 machine, the added difficulty was easy to see. “It was a tough year, real humbling,” he admitted.
On the North American front, Rayhall stepped up from his two years of LMPC experience to pilot the DeltaWing for a full season in the Prototype class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. While he helped deliver the most promising season for the ever-evolving race car, contributing to all five points-paying finishes and a strong run at Daytona before a collision, the now-defunct project never really hit its stride in capturing podium finishes – with no fault to any driver of the program.
Always a smiling personality in the paddock regardless of circumstance, Rayhall has had many reasons to be proud of his young career. His first full season in the IMSA Prototype Lites division came in 2013 and ended with the overall championship, which led to a PC ride at Petit Le Mans that year. Teaming up with Ozz Negri Jr. at the 2013 ALMS finale earned Rayhall his first top-level podium, one step away from a class win at Road Atlanta.
The next two years proved fruitful for the Georgia native. Rayhall’s first full season in the LMPC field saw two wins and four podiums while never finishing outside 10th in class, despite a rotating host of co-drivers in the car. The performance led to a sixth place finish in points for the 2014 season. The next year, he only raced three times in LMPC, earning one podium and a fifth place finish.
During the 2015 season, Rayhall tried his hand at open wheel racing in the Indy Lights series. He podiumed in the highly competitive series after just three starts. His first win came at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, followed by a second win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Rayhall earned six top five finishes in just nine races in the series.
Performance on the race track has led to some high profile attention for Rayhall. Last year, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Mike Hull shared his thoughts on the racer’s future. He said that it didn’t matter what he raced, he had to win.
Rayhall’s response has been to prepare himself and the variables he has control over for his best season yet. Throughout the off season, he’s spent two days a week karting and two days a week with SimCraft and their simulations. He’s worked to get himself into the best physical shape of his life, as light has he’s been since 13 or 14 years old. “This year’s going to be my best performance and I’m going to make sure of that,” he confidently declared on the year ahead.
Rayhall is looking forward to working with a full season of LMP3 action in ELMS with United Autosport. He and Falb look forward to Richard Dean’s leadership with the British team. He also mentioned the opportunity to pursue an LMPC program with Starworks Motorsports. He’s fully confident in team principal, Peter Baron, and his ability to put together a strong program for the IMSA WeatherTech Championship.
Photos: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography