Buoyed by the addition of the National Guard as a main sponsor, Graham Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team expected to contend coming into the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Instead, the first five races all ended with poor results – none worse than the Indianapolis 500, which saw Rahal finish 33rd and dead last after an early electrical failure.
But today in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Rahal finally broke through for a second-place finish in a Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Race 1 that shifted repeatedly with various strategy calls.
Rahal moved up and down the pylon himself but was in the Top 5 when a caution with 15 laps to go turned the race into an all-out sprint. After the restart, Ryan Briscoe pitted from the lead with eight to go, leaving Will Power up front and Rahal right behind him.
As the laps ticked away, Power stretched his lead to almost one second before Rahal was able to mount one last charge toward the Australian. Unfortunately for him, he fell just three-tenths of a second short.
“I thought I was finally going to get the monkey off my back today,” said Rahal, who has not won in the Verizon IndyCar Series since doing so in his first-ever series start at St. Petersburg six years ago.
“I knew I had a car that was as quick as his. I knew I had one opportunity and that was on the restart [with 11 laps to go], and he blocked me – which I would have done too, so I don’t blame him.
“But that last run, I thought we put on a charge, we caught him, and started to fade a little bit. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but all of a sudden it came to us, and this National Guard car went right to the front.”
Rahal, who hit the podium for the first time since finishing second last year at Long Beach, said that despite the different strategies, he remained confident in his car’s abilities to make up ground.
“I knew I was one of the few guys that could really drive by a lot of people today,” he said. “So after I saw myself in 13th place after our bad run on the reds, I said, ‘This isn’t over. I can still pass these guys.'”
Now comes the matter of continuing the momentum from today’s result. After Rahal’s Long Beach podium in 2013, he only posted one more Top-5 finish at Iowa for the remainder of that season.
But Rahal, energized with confidence, believes that his No. 15 National Guard team will eventually claim victory – perhaps as soon as tomorrow, which brings Race 2 of the Motor City doubleheader.
“My guys have done a phenomenal job, and I said after Indy, that this was a team made up of champions,” he said. “It was going to come in time, and we’re going to win one. We’re going to do it. I can promise you that.”