They have the pace. They have the drivers. But they need more consistency.
That’s Bobby Rahal’s take on his team’s chances in the upcoming 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, which kicks off its 17-race season March 10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, will have his son Graham Rahal and 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato returning behind the wheel for him this season in the Nos. 15 and 30 Hondas, respectively. Sato collected the team’s only win last season – at the Grand Prix of Portland in September – but Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART champion, believes the team will bounce back strong this year.
Graham Rahal, who turned 30 last month, is entering his 13th season of Indy car competition and has compiled six career wins. He went winless for the first time in four years in 2018 and finished eighth in points – his fourth straight top-10 finish in the championship but lowest since he wound up 14th in 2014.
Sato returned to RLL in 2018 after spending the previous five seasons with AJ Foyt Racing and Andretti Autosport. The 42-year-old placed 12th in the standings.
“We’ve just got to be more consistent,” said Bobby Rahal, who won 24 Indy car races during his distinguished career. “That’s No. 1, for sure.”
The numbers bear out the team co-owner’s thoughts. While Graham Rahal had 12 top-10 finishes, he didn’t crack the top five in the final half of the season. Sato followed up his Portland win with a 25th-place finish at the season finale, the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, and managed only one other podium result (third at Iowa) besides his Portland triumph.
“We’ve got to be right up front,” Bobby Rahal said. “That’s No. 2. We were able to do that in some cases last year, but not on a consistent basis. But we have added Allen McDonald to the team. He is one of the best engineers in the series. I think he is already bringing new thoughts in, and we are seeing them.
“I think we have good reason to think we can have a great year, but now we have to go out and do it. I know we have speed and good drivers.”
Graham Rahal has consistently shown the ability to drive his way through the field after qualifying mid-pack or lower. He’s left his father impressed on many occasions.
“He’s very brave, much braver than I ever was,” Bobby Rahal said. “If we give him the (competitive) car, he’ll win a lot of races. We did a test at Indy at the end of last year with five other guys, including (Scott) Dixon, and Graham was quickest. It was a good way to end the season last year. We just got to be there every day in 2019.”
The team co-owner knows the competition won’t let up this year, either.
“I don’t think there is any better racing in the world than INDYCAR,” he said. “There are so many dynamic young drivers in it now. With the new NBC TV package, it makes INDYCAR a very telling story to sponsors and fans.”
The two Rahal cars are among 23 entries expected to compete in a team test Friday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, California – site of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey that will close the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season on Sept. 22 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). Fans may attend Friday’s test beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET for $20 or $10 for those who have already purchased tickets to the race weekend. Season ticket-holders to the track receive free admission.
Following that, all full-season entries and several part-timers will participate Feb. 12 and 13 in INDYCAR Spring Training, a two-day open test at Circuit of the Americas. The noted road course in Austin, Texas, is hosting the series for the first time this year, with the INDYCAR Classic set for March 24 (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
The first day of the COTA test is open to the public for $20 (free admission for those with tickets to race weekend). It will also stream live on IndyCar.com beginning at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday, Feb. 12.
View the entire 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule here.