Despite P8 result in NOLA, Rahal, RLL flying the flag for single-car IndyCar teams

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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.”

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”