Graham Rahal

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is Graham Rahal’s kind of place even as last year's NTT INDYCAR SERIES race ended early for him.

But natural terrain road courses like this one have been showplaces for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in recent seasons, and Rahal has led the charge. Last year, he earned two NTT P1 Awards at such circuits – at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August and at Portland International Raceway three weeks later – and finished second in the IMS race. Earlier in the year, he also qualified on the front row at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

At Laguna Seca, Rahal started 10th before being taken out on the first lap. The incident started with three of the four cars at the front banging off each other. Those running just a bit deeper in the pack, where Rahal was, were at the mercy of the accordion effect, and before the dust literally settled there were a half-dozen cars off in Turn 2.

Rahal’s car couldn’t continue that day after being knocked into Josef Newgarden’s, but he believes his crew at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing learned something from that weekend that they can work with here in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

“I think our qualifying package was good last year,” he said. “It was a shame not to be able to get very far into the race, but I hope we can carry that same speed over.”

Rahal’s best lap time in this weekend’s first practice ranked 17th of 27 car-and-driver combinations. As is weekly the case, it was a highly competitive Friday session, with the fastest 18 cars within 1 second of each other 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit.

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Good Ranchers Team Penske Chevrolet) set the pace with a lap of 1 minute, 7.6325 seconds. Rahal’s lap in the No. 15 Mobil 1 Honda clocked in at 1:08.4733.

RLL’s other drivers – Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 30 Eurofarma Honda) and Christian Lundgaard (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) – were fifth and 11th on the speed chart, respectively.

There have been three races on permanent road courses this season – four including The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge – and Rahal has finished in the top 11 of each. He crossed the finish line in ninth place in the Sonsio Grand Prix at IMS, was 10th in the XPEL Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR and finished 11th both in the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix and at The Thermal Club. That’s an average finish of 10.0 in points-paying races.

Sunday’s 95-lap race (6 p.m. ET, USA Network, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network) will be Rahal’s fifth series start at Laguna Seca, but his experience at this track runs deep, including driving for Carlin’s Team Lebanon effort in A1GP in 2005. He was just 16 at the time.

Rahal’s family ties to Monterey go much farther back. Bobby Rahal won four consecutive races from 1984 through 1987, and the team that is now known as RLL has three wins, three poles and six top-three finishes with Bryan Herta, Max Papis and Bobby Rahal contributing those. The team also has three wins and three poles in sports car races at the track.

Rahal, whose car livery is especially eye-catching this weekend, hopes to add to that success in Sunday’s race. It’s worth noting that he gained a race-high 14 positions in the June 9 race at Road America.

“I think we made some good improvements (at Road America) that will help us (here),” he said. “I feel like we’ve had some pace at the road courses of late and so hopefully we can … build the pace through the weekend and be strong and give ourselves the chance to win.”