ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It’s not been a good three-race stretch for Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, dating back to last August at Pocono Raceway in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
At Pocono, Tristan Vautier made an ambitious maneuver that took him out. At Sonoma, Sebastien Bourdais pitched him into a spin.
Sunday, in the 2016 curtain-raising Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, contact from Carlos Munoz into Turn 4 in his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda triggered an eight-car “parking lot” and helped knock Rahal from eighth place to 21st.
“He’s 10 car (lengths) back or something and T-bones me,” Rahal told NBC Sports post-race, as he finished 16th after starting sixth.
“He says to me, ‘Oh, my bad. My fault.’ Well, yeah, obviously. Everyone knows that.
“It ruined our day. We had a top-three car. We had to take our time as it was difficult to pass.
“I’m frustrated because we deserve better than people being idiots.
“Ultimately, at the end of the year for the championship, days like this can have a huge effect. So yeah, I’m pretty bummed.”
Rahal elaborated on how much harder this race was to pass compared to last year’s, when he also was on a charge and then made contact with Charlie Kimball, but was assessed a penalty for avoidable contact in what was a questionable call.
“Way harder to pass. Without having the underwing on (the cars), it’s hard to follow. We slid around a bit.
“Our last stint showed what we could do. Nobody paying attention then but we were the fastest car on the track (Rahal had the latest fast lap in the field, sixth best overall coming on Lap 94, with only Mikhail Aleshin posting his fastest lap of the day later).
“The whole time, we made up four positions. That’s probably more than what anyone else did from a passing standpoint.”
He advocated for INDYCAR to bring back the undertray, which helps create additional downforce.
“We gotta get the undertray back on. I don’t understand the mentality. It’s common sense in traffic that the wings are not effected… so the undertray is only way to create downforce. When we take those off, we lack the downforce.
“I’d rather they limit the wing angles and give you the undertray back. But then again on a street and road course, why does it make a difference? Put the undertray on, and let’s go.”
For reference, Rahal had only four finishes of 15th or worse year, but is now mired in a three-race rut.
Meanwhile, rookie teammate Spencer Pigot enjoyed a clean and trouble-free debut en route to 14th in the No. 16 RLL/Andersen Promotions Honda.