Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar: Rahal, Sato already looking forward to 2019 after tough 2018

Leave a comment

The 2018 IndyCar Series season held a lot of promise for Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Rahal was coming off a pair of wins in 2017 and a sixth-place finish in the championship, his third straight top six placing, while Sato was coming off his best IndyCar season to date – he ended 2017 eighth in the standings, and of course triumphed at the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport.

Things started off with a bang, as Sato, who joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ahead of the year, was fastest in three of the four sessions at the ISM Raceway open test back in February, while Rahal was fastest in the other.

Rahal carried that momentum into the early part of the season, finishing in the top 10 in each of the opening six races, and extended that streak to 10 in the first 11 races.

However, race-winning pace seemed to be missing. Rahal’s only podium in that stretch came on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida to start the year – he finished second – though an additional podium in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit went by the wayside after a crash on Lap 46.

Sato, meanwhile, struggled out of the gate, not scoring a top 10 until the fourth race of the year at Barber Motorsports Park, where he finished eighth.

Sato did pick up momentum in the middle of the season, however, with finishes of fifth (Detroit Race 1), fourth (Road America), and third (Iowa Speedway).

And, of course, there was also Sato’s popular win at Portland International Raceway, the second-to-last event of the year.

However, Sato’s year was also blighted by five finishes of 20th or worse, and eight total finishes outside the top 10.

Simultaneously, Rahal’s season lost steam in the second half, thanks in part to quite a bit of bad luck. He had only two top 10s in the final six races, with three finishes of 21st or worse. What’s more, he had his first winless season since 2014.

The season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma proved to be a microcosm of their seasons. Both showed promising speed in advancing out of the first round of qualifying, but neither could advance to the Firestone Fast Six – Rahal qualified ninth, with Sato in 12th.

Race day saw their weekends get worse, and it was arguably the team’s worst result of the year. Sato’s day came to an end on Lap 15, when the engine in his No. 15 RLL Honda expired in spectacular fashion.

Rahal’s day then essentially came to an end on Lap 44, when he lost power due to a battery issue. Though he did rejoin and actually was running at the finish, Rahal ultimately finished 23rd, 19 laps off the lead.

“What happened in the race was our year in a nutshell,” Rahal lamented. “It was obviously disappointing to have the race end how it did. The guys did a great job and the Total car was pretty good in the race. We lost power. We had a battery that exploded unfortunately and that cost us everything.”

However, despite the disappointing results, Rahal remains highly confident in the team’s ability, and pointed toward their resilience as evidence that big things may be coming.

“It was a very disappointing and frustrating day. I will say this though, we have had a hard year, but I don’t think I have ever been as proud to work with a group of guys as I am this year,” he asserted. “These guys never quit. They focused on doing the best they could, at all times, and busted their butts. I know this is a great sign of things to come.”

Similarly, Sato is excited for the 2019 season, and believes the off-season will give them an opportunity to reset and reload to make a big run at things next year.

“The last race in Sonoma is disappointing but there is a great feeling for next year. We will work hard on development over the winter and come back strong for 2019,” Sato detailed.

Rahal ended 2018 tied for eighth in the standings, with Marco Andretti, with Sato ending up 12th.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

IndyCar.com
Leave a comment

Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”