Rahal’s reboot will take more time

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The engineering reboot at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing didn’t immediately pay dividends at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend.

As part of a team restructuring effort, Graham Rahal’s engineer Gerry Hughes was reassigned to be the team’s Head of Development, with ex-Dragon Racing hand Neil Fife brought in to help stem the tide of a frustrating season.

Initial signs from the weekend weren’t promising. Rahal lost a day of testing on Wednesday due to fuel issues, his second lost test day this year (Barber open test). He qualified only 22nd and finished only 18th in the No. 15 Midas/Big-O Tires Honda on a day he and his home fans in Columbus would rather forget.

“It was a struggle all day. The car was loose from the get-go, really loose.  Here, where you have these high commitment corners when you are loose it’s a struggle and unfortunately we never really came to grips with that,”  he said. “Obviously I’m disappointed. We wanted to show better at my home race but unfortunately this is all we had today. We’ve just got to keep soldiering on. Nothing is coming easy to us right now. We’re just not competitive so we have to just keep working hard. We are looking forward to the test day in Sonoma, without a doubt. Hopefully we can get out there and get a lot done.”

James Jakes continues to punch above his weight in the second RLL car, the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. The affable Englishman outqualified Rahal for the eighth time in the last 10 races, with a respectable 10th place effort. That said, 13th wasn’t a result to write home about on his 26th birthday.

“It was a pretty frustrating race really,” said Jakes. “We started tenth, lost a spot on the start. Everyone else was on red tires and the three guys that were on blacks in front of us Marco, Pagenaud and ourselves all caught up to each other and I thought we were in a good position.  We had pretty good laps going and I was quite happy with the balance of the car but then we just got stuck behind the guys that were doing the two stop race and that just killed us. It was difficult to overtake and we struggled from then on.”

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”