Through the first six races of the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, Graham Rahal has placed himself in a position to once again challenge for the championship. He is sixth in the standings with 140 points, the same number of points as Team Penske’s Will Power, who gets the advantage based on tiebreaker.
The series is off for the next two weekends before reconvening at Rahal’s “hometown track,” the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Sunday, Aug. 9.
Rahal finished second to points leader Scott Dixon in the GMR Grand Prix on July 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and finished third in Race 2 of the Iowa INDYCAR 250s last Saturday night at Iowa Speedway.
“Honestly, I thought I drove better at Iowa,” Rahal said. “I thought Race 2 at Iowa, we had probably the best car over the long run. I thought we were going to win the thing. I thought on the last restart, I had two challenges, and their names were Conor Daly and Will Power. If I could clear those two challenges, I had already passed Josef Newgarden on the night and thought I knew his strengths and weaknesses.”
Rahal realized Daly and Power also were in contention for the victory, so it set up a tactical battle on track.
“I thought if I could clear those two, I had a chance,” Rahal said. “In the end, I couldn’t. I got really good runs on them, but any time I got a really good run, it was clear their spotters were saying ‘Graham is running up high’ or ‘Graham is good here and there.’ The next lap, they would take my line, or my air, and I was toast. There is nothing wrong with that; that’s the way it works, and I would do the same thing. They did a good job to respond.
“After 20 or 30 laps with the tire, you are hanging on the rest of the stint. We ran out of steam.
“Indy Grand Prix, we played it right from start to finish. That was disappointing, too, but that’s life.”
As INDYCAR takes a two-weekend pause, it allowed Rahal to return to California to spend time with his wife, Courtney. The couple are expecting their first child later this year.
Rahal would love to celebrate the birth of their child along with a potential INDYCAR championship.
He is in contention for that title because of some impressive preparation from his race team, based in Brownsburg, Indiana.
“I feel really good about where we are,” Rahal said. “As a team, everybody has done a really good job staying focused, staying committed through this process. It’s not only staying focused on racing and not getting distracted on COVID but also on improving through this process.
“This offseason led into a longer offseason before racing began was an opportunity for us to push forward and improve and be even better. I feel like we have done that, and I’m proud of the effort that has gone in.”
Rahal, the 31-year-old driver from Columbus, Ohio, who lives in Indianapolis, is not about to let off the throttle. With a scheduled eight races left this season, including the double-points Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge scheduled for Aug. 23, there is a lot of racing left this season.
Rahal and teammate Takuma Sato are part of a two-driver effort at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Spencer Pigot will join the team for the 104th Indianapolis 500 in an effort known as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with Citrone/Buhl Autosport.
Bobby Rahal is not only the driver’s father, he’s also the team owner and is quite proud at the development of the team in 2020.
“I think the car, Graham and his engineers have worked really well together,” Bobby Rahal said. “Takuma Sato has had some good performances, as well. In Graham’s case, Allen McDonald and the assistant engineer are working really well together. Some of the things we found in the winter are paying off.
“If you look at the outright pace, at Elkhart Lake in Race 1, Graham was on target to give Newgarden grief, and both had a problem in the pits.
“Everything is clicking right now. We haven’t won yet, but we’ve been in position to win. At Indy in the Grand Prix, if it hadn’t been for the yellow, it was Graham’s race – there wasn’t any doubt of that.
“Unlucky there, but we are running up front, and that is what you have to do.”
As a driver, Bobby Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500 and three CART championships in an impressive career. He also knows the importance of strategy, especially in a series where playing the fuel strategy game can determine victory from failure.
The elder Rahal knows Graham’s podium finish at Iowa was aided by a caution period, but that’s part of the game. Every team wants to extend a tank of fuel for as long as possible while trying to avoid a caution.
“We took advantage of it,” Bobby Rahal said.
But Graham Rahal didn’t advance from 19th starting position to a third-place finish on a lucky caution. He passed cars and raced his way to an impressive finish.
That has carried him into the break with renewed momentum.
“I think his confidence is up because things are clicking,” Bobby Rahal said of his son. “He is qualifying well, and he is racing well. Graham at Iowa has had other races in the past where he has gone from the back to the front. He really likes that place.”
The team owner also has faith that Sato is ready to mount a charge, especially after he led 49 laps in last Friday night’s race at Iowa Speedway.
“There is no doubt Takuma still has the talent to win and run up front,” Bobby Rahal said. “Everything has to click better on that car. There is no doubt in my mind about Takuma. He is always strong at Indy. If everything comes together for him at Mid-Ohio and that week of practice at Indy, he could still be right there.
“He’s still got it.”