AVONDALE, La. – For Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, it’s good to have the opening two races of the year produce 11th and eighth place results, and be disappointed with those results.
Because the team’s performance level is such that regular top-five finishes are within range, after a much improved start to the season with its new personnel put in place.
Both in St. Petersburg and yesterday in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park, Rahal ran in the top five at various points in the races.
Yesterday, Rahal was on a roll early after starting 11th, consistently passing cars on the restart before he reached his highest point in the race. After one restart, he did a great job to save his No. 15 D-A Lubricant Co. Honda exiting the wet track at Turn 13, but lost a spot to Ryan Hunter-Reay.
But when most of the field peeled off to pit on Lap 33, and the few cars that opted to gamble stayed out, it took Rahal down a few places and into the eventual eighth place result.
“Just passing people in the rain, the car was really good,” Rahal told MotorSportsTalk post-race. “I got by four-five guys there. I got a couple more on the restarts. I know Hunter-Reay was complaining about me on the restart but it was just perfectly timed. Then he proceeded to block me hard the next one, which was ridiculous.
“But anyway, the car was really good. The guys did a great job. Hinchcliffe and those guys did a great job, but they were very lucky to make it. When you look at their strategy, we couldn’t do that, because we were up front and you can’t take a chance like that.”
Rahal’s father and team co-owner Bobby – whose team is renowned in IndyCar circles for its own excellent strategic calls throughout the years – noted the irony of the fact that in a crapshoot like this, running up front actually cost them in a strategy race.
“It’s frustrating but I’m sure Montoya is as frustrated as we are,” Bobby Rahal told MST. “Because of the yellows, it really rewards guys that aren’t competitive. They had nothing to lose, so they could have aggressive strategies.
“We’ve all been there. We’re up front, and then we’re trapped, then you can’t play that strategy because you have something to lose.”
Bobby Rahal also elaborated on how the chemistry and team dynamic has improved through two races. With Graham one of the best Honda runners out of the gate, it’s clear the personnel switch where he’s working directly with engineer Eddie Jones and returning crewmembers Mike Talbott and Martin Pare is paying dividends.
“I take great responsibility for how it wasn’t a good atmosphere in the team last year,” Bobby Rahal said. “Having Eddie, Martin, and Mike – we have guys that are really sharp and smart guys.
“Everyone says, ‘Oh, a single-car team can’t perform in a multi-car team environment. I think we’ve proven that’s wrong.
“Graham’s driving really well. I know as a driver, when you’re in an environment that gives you confidence, you can move mountains. That environment exists at RLL.”