IndyCar: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 2018 Season Review

IndyCar
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Editor’s note: MotorSportsTalk continues to review how each organization in the IndyCar Series performed in 2018 and also takes a look ahead to 2019.

Thus far we have featured Juncos RacingMeyer Shank RacingCarlin Racing, Harding Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, Dale Coyne Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing.

Today we feature Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. 


Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 2018 IndyCar Review

It was a rough season for RLL, one that definitely could have been better. Graham Rahal, son of team majority owner Bobby Rahal, showed some strong moments at times, but issues here and there – either driver mistakes or car/race problemss – hindered him at times.

RLL also welcomed the return of 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who previously raced for the organization in 2012. Sato would go on to earn RLL’s lone win of the season, in the penultimate event of 2018 at Portland, and finished the season in 12th place.

GRAHAM RAHAL

Team name: No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Years in IndyCar: 11

Career wins and podium finishes: 6 and 23

Best career finish: 4th in 2015

2018 final standing: 8th

2018 final stats: 0 wins, 1 podiums, 0 poles.

2018 best race finish: 2nd (St. Petersburg)

SEASON WRAPUP: The younger Rahal was on-target to potentially finish the season with a top-5 showing. But three finishes of 21st or worse in three of the last six races dropped him to 8th, the same position he held for those last six races of the season. It was his worst season finish since he was 19th in 2014.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: Rahal has been on a downward slide for the last four seasons, finishing 4th in 2015, 5th in 2016, 6th in 2017 and 8th this past season. Don’t be surprised if there are some offseason personnel changes on the team. It has great promise, but needs some new blood.

QUOTE (after season finale at Sonoma): “What happened in the race (finished 23rd due to battery issues) was our year in a nutshell. … 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. 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.”

********************

TAKUMA SATO

Team name: No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda

Years in IndyCar: 9

Career wins and podium finishes: 3 and 8

Best career season finish: 8th in 2017

2018 final standing: 12th

2018 final stats: 1 wins, 2 podiums, 0 poles

2018 best race finish: 1st (Portland)

SEASON WRAPUP: Sato and RLL had high expectations coming into 2018, but the end result was lacking in several areas. Sure, he had the team’s lone win of the season at Portland, but he also had four DNFs (three being crashes, including in the Indy 500, of which he was the defending winner). Sato had hoped to earn at least a top-10 finish for the season, but 3 DNFs in the last six races relegated him to a disappointing 12th place finish overall.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: As difficult as it may be for his fans to believe, the reality is that Sato will be 42 in the 2019 season (birthday is January 28). Prior to his Portland win, there was uncertainty whether he would return to RLL. But now that he’s signed for 2019, the question is how productive can he still be. There’s reason for optimism: he’s coming off his two best IndyCar seasons (8th in 2017 and 12th in 2018). But, in general terms, his performance and that of his team needs to improve significantly.

QUOTE (following the season finale at Sonoma): “It’s a pity to finish the season like this especially for the boys who worked so hard the entire season. Of course, we had a good highlight two weeks ago (Portland win), but we wanted to carry good momentum into 2019. Having said that, it was a good day for myself and the team as we announced we were together again 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. Thank you very much to the entire team. I enjoyed the year.”

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)