Second of three parts looking at the Verizon IndyCar Series season of Graham Rahal through the eyes of others. Today, race engineer Eddie Jones.
While veteran Indy car engineer Eddie Jones worked with Rahal Letterman Lanigan drivers James Jakes in 2013 and Oriol Servia and Luca Filippi in 2014, he got to know Graham Rahal well.
“One of the things that impressed me with Graham when I arrived was that he displayed a maturity beyond his years,” Jones says. “His intelligence in the races with what he had, which more often than not was not a competitive car, was impressive. I had to remind myself he was still only 24 at the time.
“He was undoubtedly a championship winner. Not just a race winner because some can win a race here or there, but to win a championship takes something different and Graham has it. This year has proven that potential is there.”
Click it: Part 1, team manager and race strategist Ricardo Nault
Rahal, driving the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, was a title contender entering the double-points season finale at Sonoma Raceway. He won two races and finished a career-high fourth in the standings, which also was the team’s best in entrant points since 2004 when Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice placed third.
The 15-position gain compared to Rahal’s 2014 final standing was among the biggest surprises of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, and Jones points to “the proper environment” as a major contributing factor.
“I looked at his data (in previous seasons) and I felt that he wasn’t quite getting what he wanted from the car in terms of set-ups and changes that were made at the various events really to suit what he was looking for," he says. "Not to say that’s easy or to discredit anyone that was trying at the time to give him what he wanted. I felt if I were engineering him I would do things a bit differently, have a different approach to what he wants from the car and to him personally. That certainly has worked this year.
“It’s the same approach I’ve had with the various drivers I’ve worked with over the years (Dan Wheldon, Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti at Andretti Green Racing to name a few). I’ve felt I’ve had an open approach, to become friends rather than just a working relationship. In that way we’re able to discuss things at a more in-depth level over just the driver-engineer relationship.
“I also like to inject some humor into the relationship. I think it’s important to have some fun. One of the changes, I think, with Graham this year is that he’s had fun and really enjoyed it. In many ways, the first step was putting Graham with someone who would really get along better with him, understand him more.
“Some other key personnel changes -- Mike Talbott, head of the vehicle dynamics program, and Martin Pare, who oversees the damper program – have made for a harmonious relationship in the engineering department. I had worked with Martin at Andretti Green for several years and Mike was at (Honda Performance Development). We’re ably supported by Alex Farina, my assistant engineer.
“Those changes have really brought the turnaround this year. Just getting the right mix of people together has been the key. There was just something missing. In my experience, the mix has to be right. At Andretti, were running four cars but had a great group (Tino Belli, Pare, Allen McDonald) and got the title in 2004, 2005 and 2007. I was at one or two other places where there wasn’t a harmonious group and the results tended to reflect that as well.”