Rahal frustrated by lack of passing, Munoz at St. Pete

Photo: IndyCar

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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.