Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato, have admitted that they were disappointed with their results in last weekend’s 2018 Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway. The pair entered the event with confidence after a strong pre-season test at the circuit, but they could only manage ninth and eleventh in the 250-lap race on Saturday night.
The troubles started early on in the weekend when neither Rahal or Sato were able to break into the top ten in qualifying. Rahal qualified his #15 Honda in twelfth, with Sato just behind in thirteenth in the #30 car.
Rahal’s race started with a loss of position to rookie Kyle Kaiser, but he was able to get into the top ten after the first pit-cycle under caution. He took the lead briefly at the mid-point of the race whilst the leaders were cycling through the pits and would come out in tenth place after his own stop.
When Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Ed Jones brought out the caution late in the race, RLLR elected to pit Rahal for fresh tyres. He would come out of the pits in ninth place and would go on to hold onto the spot until the end of the race. Although it was an improvement on his qualifying position, Graham was disappointed that he wasn’t further up.
“It wasn’t bad.” said Rahal, “We were trying to go really long on our stints – which was the whole goal – and frankly it should have worked.”
“There were a couple of times there that yellows should have come out and they didn’t and because of that, we paid the price running on old tires. Strategy and history shows that that’s the best way to do it so we stuck to our plan but it didn’t quite work out today but ultimately we got a top-10 for the One Cure team and that’s a heck of a lot better than we did last year here.
“We will just keep our heads down and keep pounding away. We’re not bad but we need to continue improving on a day-to-day basis. We need to show up close [to the right setup] at Long Beach and we should be able to.”
It wasn’t any better for Rahal’s team-mate Takuma Sato. He had a very similar race, starting with losing a position on the start to Kaiser and also being cycled toward the front of the pack during the second pit-sequence. However, the similarities ended after the final caution.
Sato pitted at the same time as his team-mate, but he was unable to hold onto his restart position of tenth. Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud was able to steal the top ten finish away from Sato, with the Japanese driver coming home in eleventh.
Sato commented after the weekend that he was particularly troubled with the setup of his #30 Honda, which was strange after he and the team had left the February pre-season test at ISM Raceway with confidence after having set the fastest time of anyone.
“It was a tough weekend. After we had the positive test, we came here and had a difficult time,” said Sato.
“Going into qualifying there were so many unknowns and we had to change the car so much. After that, it was the same scenario in the race. I never got comfortable. It was very tough out there and in the end, the strategy did not play out well.
“We started thirteenth and finished eleventh, so not a good weekend at all. The timing of the pit stop was key and I think we stayed out too long. When the tires started to go off, there was quite a battle. I was able to overtake a few cars. It was a frustrating night.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing race at Phoenix with a strong result in this weekend’s 2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which will take place on April 15.