INDIANAPOLIS – Graham Rahal is in a contract year, and though the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing mainstay doesn’t foresee retirement, he also isn’t sure of his future at his father’s team.
“I think anything is on the table,” Rahal, 34, told a small group of reporters Tuesday before the opening day of Indy 500 practice was scrubbed by rain. “I have literally made no decision. Even going somewhere else. I’ve made no decision. I think I have a lot to add to the equation. I feel very confident saying that with my experience. Eventually, you get a feel for things and there’s a lot you can add and help with and make things better. I feel like I’m still in my prime in that regard.”
It’s been six years since the most recent NTT IndyCar Series victory for Rahal, whose inaugural win came as a 19-year-old at the 2008 St. Petersburg Grand Prix. Takuma Sato’s 2020 Indy 500 victory was the most recent win for the team founded by his father, Bobby, the 1986 winner at the Brickyard.
NBC SPORTS AT THE INDY 500: Full broadcast schedule for May
INDY 500 INFO: Start times, schedules, TV, stats, historical details about the race
But there have been recent signs of improvement for RLL. After winning the rookie of the year last season, Christian Lundgaard earned his first career pole position last weekend at the GMR Grand Prix and backed it up with the team’s season-best fourth place finish in the No. 45 Dallara-Honda.
After a first-lap incident on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Graham Rahal also fought to a “magic” 10th (his second top 10 after opening 2023 with a sixth at St. Pete) ahead of road course aces Will Power, Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean. He believes the damage from an early collision cost his No. 15 Honda a shot at the podium.
Though it was a testament to RLL’s best race weekend this season, Rahal said it also reaffirms his belief that he can return to being a contender after two consecutive seasons outside the top 10 in the points standings.
“I still have the fire,” Rahal said. “There’s no doubt. But there’s a lot of other factors that go into this. Do I see myself leaving at the end of the year? My deal is up. Do I see myself retiring? No, I don’t.
“But I also am not going to sit here and not run up front when I know I can compete with those guys. I don’t say that arrogantly or overconfident. Ask Will Power, he’ll tell you. I know I can compete with those guys. I just don’t want to sit here and keep running around in 20th.
“That’s not a selfish thing. It’s actually the opposite. Because for me, eventually, you’ve got to look internally and go, ‘Look, am I the piece of the puzzle that’s not really clicking here? Do I need to step away and bring in a different driver or whatever.’ But the flip side of that is all of our sponsors are long-term deals. All of the sponsors have my name in the contract, so where am I going to go?”
This is the most track time we got today. 😂
Let’s reload and get after it tomorrow! @UnitedRentals | #WorkUnited | @fleetcostcare | @FifthThird | @rllracing | @hondaracing_hpd | @indycar | #INDYCAR | #Indy500 | @IMS pic.twitter.com/8WpCprfmM8
— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) May 16, 2023
If he were to drive for another team for the first time since 2012 (his second year at Chip Ganassi Racing), it would be a stunner not only because of the family ties.
Rahal spoke openly before last season that he was being groomed by his father to run RLL someday, and he often talks with the authority and candor of a team manager when assessing the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Rahal, who represents himself, said he hasn’t talked to any other teams and negotiates all of his deals through Mike Lanigan, his father’s partner who primarily handles the team’s business.
“I don’t even talk to Dad about it,” he said. “It’s all Mike Lanigan. Everything financial is Mike Lanigan. Even on the last deal, Dad and I never talk money, never talk any of that stuff.”
Though coy about when contract talks would begin (“I’ll start talking at some point”), it seems clear that Rahal is in no hurry while he evaluates the team’s progress. RLL underwent a massive offseason overhaul, completing a move into a state-of-the-art shop in Brownsburg, Indiana, and hiring a new technical director from Formula One (while also expanding into the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype category with two factory-supported BMWs).
Rahal expected the changeovers to take time (noting the team is analyzing aero data differently now than just last month at the Indy 500 Open Test), but there also is some urgency. The team still is diagnosing why his car was oversteering in practice and qualifying for the GMR GP vs. the more balanced handling of teammates Lundgaard and Jack Harvey (who started fourth).
“We need to get more competitive, and I want to see signs that things are turning the right way,” Rahal said. “And I would just say over the last couple of years, we had some individuals that prohibited us from advancing in my opinion. Those people are gone. Now it’s time for us to be the aggressor. Whether it’s engineering, or staff in general, it’s time for the team to be on the aggressive stance vs. not being aggressive enough. Those are things you want to see for sure
“You’ve got to put all the pieces of the puzzle to make this thing happen. That’s where we are at today that we as a team are still learning. We’re still putting it together. And last week was the first week we are starting to see some positive glimpses of that. There are still question marks, but we’re getting better. For sure.”