‘I can finally drive the car the way I want to’ – Rahal

#15: Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
#15: Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Graham Rahal has expressed his relief and happiness at the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team’s return to form, and his own car’s handling.

He qualified second for his home race, the Honda Indy 200, just 0.0432s slower than pole winner Colton Herta. With teammate Christian Lundgaard fifth and Jack Harvey 11th, it’s a clear signal that the team is continuing to build momentum on road courses, where Lundgaard qualified and finished sixth in Barber Motorsports Park, took pole and finished fourth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and qualified and finished seventh at Road America.

These have been the only highlights of the season for a squad that reached its nadir in practice and qualifying at the Indianapolis 500, the consequence of which was a restructure of the engineering department. Now, Saturday’s result appears to also herald a distinct upswing in Rahal’s form, as he seeks his seventh Indy car win — his first for over six years.

“It’s been a long time coming,” the veteran explained. “We’ve been beat-up. We’ve been bruised. We’ve been knocked down. For us as a team to rebound this way, I could have told you last night after the practice, yeah, I was P20, but I told everybody I don’t think that’s real at all.

“And I told the guys in the engineering room, ‘Actually I think I’ve got P2, P3 pace’ and I don’t normally say that unless I’m fairly confident that we do. This morning we went out, ran only one set of blacks, we were right there.

“To be honest with you, this is the first weekend I felt like I’ve had the car to where I can drive it the way I want to drive it, and it’s rewarded me because it’s finally to the place where I can charge the (corner) entries, I can do the things I like to do with my style, and it’s just nice to finally see the result come.

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“It almost feels in a weird way like today you don’t have to drive nearly as hard as you were the last two years combined. You knew the speed was there. You weren’t over-pressuring yourself. You just simply needed to work through it and get there. It certainly was nice to see the result, as I said, for the whole team.

“I think the turnaround has been coming. Detroit was a major disappointment, which worries me a little for Toronto because I think there’s still a lot of questions for us on our street course package, but the road course package — you look at Indy GP, you look Road America, and you look here — we’ve been competitive. Again, it’s good to see that, good to feel the energy, feel the momentum.

“I think we’re finally starting to make changes with the car, as I just said, that they’re responding the right way, the way you’d expect them to, and it’s nice. It’s nice to feel that. More than me, I think it’s just for these guys, to see the smiles on the mechanics’ faces. Those guys, they’ve never had an ounce of quit in them, and they could have for years. To see them excited is worth it.”

Of teammate Lundgaarde, he later added: “I think Christian has done a great job because he’s more tolerant of the oversteer slides on entry and things like that. And for me, my style, I want to attack the corner. I want to brake late, brake hard, roll speed with good, good rear confidence, and I’ve struggled with that mightily.”

Rahal remained tight-lipped on what changes he wishes to see at the team in 2024, although he admitted the personnel changes post-Indy had been hard and that, “We had a lot of good people that I think were being held back a little bit. Once we started to unleash them a little bit to realize their full potential, it benefited the entire program, and so we’re starting to see that — at least on road courses.”

However, for now he said his mind was entirely on the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, a race he won back in 2015.

“I’m going to focus, honestly, on just tomorrow,” he said. “I know it sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. At this standpoint there’s been a lot of discussions, a lot of conversations back and forth. There’s a lot of thinking to do.

“But right now I’ve got a chance to go win tomorrow. If I can get another win at home, it would mean a hell of a lot to me. So that’s my focus.”

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