If there was a turning point to Graham Rahal’s season in 2015, it likely was in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
After finishing second the race before at Birmingham, Rahal scored his second consecutive runner-up of the season in the Indy road course event.
That would propel him to a streak of four top-fives in five races, eventually two wins – a single-season career high with triumphs at Fontana and Mid-Ohio – and ultimately the best overall season finish in his IndyCar career: fourth place.
The driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda came into last year’s ALGPI ranked eighth in the standings; he enters this weekend’s race sixth in the rankings.
“The start to last season and this season are seemingly identical,” Rahal said. “I would have loved better results this year, and frankly feel the team deserves them.
“But due to my mistakes in Long Beach and bad luck in St. Pete, we have found ourselves in a similar position. I think this weekend will be key for a good kickoff to our month of May.”
Rahal hopes luck is on his side in Saturday’s race as it was in last year’s race. He deftly avoided an incident on the first turn of the opening lap, gathered things back up and roared to his runner-up finish.
“The race last year was interesting,” he said. “We struggled in qualifying, but due to the first corner mess, I was able to get into sixth place on the start.
“After that it was work as usual and trying to get by everyone with strategy and some passes. Luckily we were able to do both and it worked out great.”
With three of the first four races of 2016 thus far having been contested on either a street course (St. Petersburg, Long Beach) or road course (Birmingham), Rahal has been on somewhat of a roller coaster ride.
While he’s finished all four races and all but one lap this season, it’s been up and down, up and down.
He finished 15th at St. Petersburg, leaving him 16th in the Verizon IndyCar Series season standings after the first race.
From there, he went to Phoenix – the only oval thus far this season – and finished fifth. In doing so, he jumped to seventh in the season standings.
Then it was backslide time again, finishing 15th at Long Beach, and dropping back to ninth in the IndyCar standings.
In the most recent IndyCar race at Birmingham two weeks ago, Rahal did almost everything right and came home in second place – his second consecutive runner-up finish at Barber Motorsports Park and his best showing since his win at Mid-Ohio last year.
That allowed Rahal to jump back up again in the standings to sixth.
“We have been very solid and I think we are only scratching the surface,” Rahal said. “We will continue to work hard and see what we can gain.
“(The road course at Indy) is similar to Barber (Birmingham), which is why I expect to be good. The main difference is there are no elevation changes and a little bit faster speeds.
“To run up front and be very competitive, that’s what I expect everywhere now. I love being here and love racing in Indy. I can’t wait.”