When considering practice times from the first day of testing the new superspeedway aero kits at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, feel free to disregard Graham Rahal’s.
The ninth-year driver’s fastest time over two sessions in his No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda was 40.5929, the 25th fastest overall among 28 cars.
But Rahal isn’t concerned. While the day was devoted to starting work with the aero kit, his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team was also finishing its use of some old equipment.
“I think our car was actually pretty quick, we just had an old, worn out engine,” Rahal told MotorSportsTalk in a phone interview. “We were trying to get it to the end of its mileage, to get it through and we did it.”
In the new aero kit, Rahal turned 77 laps around the 2.5-mile track where he finished dead last in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 due to electrical issues.
“It felt good and frankly, the nice thing is there was nothing that was too shocking about it,” Rahal said. “I was kind of worried about the first day of running it. I didn’t know what to think about it and frankly it ran really well. I was pleased with it for a first day.”
Once the series is past the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis this Saturday, Rahal’s team will move on to breaking in a new engine for the Indianapolis 500, where his best career finish is third in 2011.
“I think the biggest thing for us is going to be getting that new engine in there, seeing how it runs for us, seeing what kind of speed we can find I think,” Rahal said. “We’re a little bit unsure still…with the car. I don’t think anybody has a great idea of where these things are going to be, we only have one day under our belt, there’s going to be a lot to learn before we get too far down the road here.”
The test on Sunday was Rahal’s first time on a track since he came in second to Josef Newgarden in the Grand Prix of Alabama. Rahal led 17 laps in the race, but a late charge saw him come up 2.206 seconds short of the lead and a shot at his second career win in nine years.
But Rahal isn’t torturing himself by reliving the moment, which he admits is one of the top three of his career, grouped with his 2008 win at St. Petersburg and coming in second at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012 after hitting the wall with three laps to go.
“Maybe one of these days I’ll sit down and take a peek at it,” Rahal said. “I have to admit, I haven’t spent too much time focusing on it at this point.”
Rahal doesn’t believe he needed more than a lap to catch up to Newgarden, as he was gaining two to three seconds a lap after getting past Scott Dixon for second.
“The amount I was catching him was pretty extreme,” Rahal said. “Of course if I got up behind Josef, I think he would have got quicker than what he was. Getting to him and passing him are two different things, but obviously I had a pretty good car and I was able to work around everybody else.”
Rahal says he thought it would be his day for awhile, though he believes had he not received a controversial penalty for contact at St. Petersburg, the season opener would have been an even better chance for win No. 2.
“I was trying to tell myself, ‘Stop, just focus on the job,’ so then I quickly went back to that,” Rahal said. “It’s kind of a shame we came up short, because days like that are hard to come by where you’re so in control of everything. That’s the way these things go and we’ll be back to fight hard for the second win here soon.”