After taking his first NTT IndyCar Series podium in over a year, Graham Rahal has paid tribute to his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew for their “tremendous” effort during the GMR Grand Prix race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rahal finished second after being one of the only drivers to stick with a two-stop strategy.
Rahal’s weekend at Indianapolis got off to a fantastic start when he managed to get his #15 Honda into the final session of qualifying. Whilst he didn’t have the pace to take the fight to Will Power or Jack Harvey for pole position, Graham put his car in a great fourth-place on the grid.
“It was a good end to our first day here at the GMR Grand Prix with qualifying,” Rahal said on Friday. “We’ll start fourth, so it’s a really good run for us in the Fifth Third Bank team. The guys did a great job. We had a really good lap in Round 2 to get us into Round 3 and then in Q3 we had one going that was just a hair better, but it still ended up being our best lap.
“All in all, I’m happy with P4. We can go race from there; we can do a good job from there. Honda has done an amazing job; you could see it. The other guys [Takuma Sato and Spencer Pigot] didn’t have the luck we did today in getting through, but they will have a good day tomorrow. We’re pretty pleased with today.”
At the start of Saturday’s race, Rahal would maintain his position inside the top five. As the field approached their first pit-stops, many would change strategy. The previous plan for many had been to complete the race on a two-stop strategy. However, many elected to make the switch to a three-stop strategy due to the high tyre degradation.
Rahal, however, would be one of a handful of drivers who opted to stay on the two-stop strategy. As a result, he would take over the lead of the race once the three-stopping drivers came in. Rahal would finally pit for the first time shortly after lap twenty-five, which was more than within the range for him to get to the end of the race on one more stop.
The key for the two-stop strategy to work as well as it could would be for the race to remain under green. Sadly, however, a caution for Oliver Askew‘s wreck on lap thirty-four would play right into the hands of Scott Dixon. Rahal would restart the race in the lead of the race, with fellow two-stoppers Spencer Pigot and Conor Daly behind, but Dixon on fresh tyres would be too much for the trio to keep at bay.
Dixon would quickly pass all three drivers and go on to build a big gap before making his final pit-stop. This ensured that he would come out ahead of Rahal and the rest of the field by the time all the pit-stops had been completed.
In the final few laps, with almost twenty seconds between himself and the lead, second-placed Rahal now had to focus on defence. A hard-charging Simon Pagenaud had closed right up to Rahal’s gearbox and was determined to find a way by. However, a similarly determined defence from Rahal would see the #15 car beat the #22 to the finish line with just over half a second between them.
The result would be Rahal’s first podium finish since last year’s race at Texas Motor Speedway and will likely be a welcome boost for Graham and the #15 team. After the race, Rahal would pay tribute to his team for a “tremendous job” at Indianapolis, whilst also wishing that the caution could have been timed a little differently to benefit them more.
“I thought the strategy was honestly working perfectly,” Rahal said on Saturday. “Honestly, with the two-stop coming out of the pits after the first stop and still being right with Power and Harvey and all the good guys, the guys I was racing at that time, all I kept thinking was when the pits cycled through for the last time, we’d have about a 25- or 30-second lead, but obviously the yellow came out and kind of nullified our strategy because then everybody just got to pit under yellow and then there was just one more to go.
“But obviously, Dixie [Scott Dixon] had tremendous pace during the late part of the race. I was on black tires struggling a little bit. The Fifth Third Bank car was great today. I thought our guys did a tremendous job. It’s a shame for Spencer [Pigot]; he was right up in the battle, as well. But for our team after Dallas, this feels extremely good for us.”
After a shaky start to the season at Texas Motor Speedway, Rahal’s podium at Indianapolis puts him up to fifth-place in the championship standings with fifty-four points to his name. He will be hoping that the momentum from his podium carries on into next weekend’s doubleheader race at Road America.
The REV Group Grand Prix race weekend will take place from Saturday, July 11 to Sunday, July 12.