In a land just south of Hollywood, Graham Rahal had a script in mind that ended with a big win in Sunday’s 42nd running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
After crashing in practice Saturday, prompting extensive repairs to both the left front and rear of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Rahal dreamed of roaring back and taking the checkered flag on race day.
He took a big step toward fulfilling that script, being the fastest in Sunday morning’s final practice session with his rebuilt car.
Unfortunately, practice was not the same as the race itself – a gamble on fuel strategy saw Rahal drop back after getting as high as ninth in the race.
Rahal started from the 17th position in the 21-driver field, and methodically climbed as high as ninth, only to fall back in the latter part of the race to an eventual 15th place finish and his worst outing on the streets of Long Beach since a 24th place finish in 2012.
The strategy was dictated by his second stop coming at Lap 48 of the 80-lap race, but without a yellow, Rahal had to engage major fuel saving mode and limped home in 15th, running out of fuel just past the start/finish line.
“I think we just made some mistakes today overall and put ourselves in a bit of a bind,” he said after the checkered flag. “With our strategy, we really needed a yellow but it’s what we needed to do to try to make up some ground after starting 17th and we did there for a while (when he got up to 10th).
“We coasted across the finish line with no fuel and barely made it.”
As he did after St. Petersburg, Rahal noted the difficulty in trying to pass even though the car was better than the result indicated.
“It kind of stunk for me today because I had a great car, I just couldn’t do anything.
“I’m proud of the PennGrade boys because they worked hard this weekend. I put them in a hole yesterday (Saturday’s crash in practice). And once again, the (pit) stops were great.”
Also great? Team co-owner David Letterman’s beard (see above). Letterman was on hand Sunday to support the team.