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.