Graham Rahal can’t deny that the sequence of events that ended his Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 30 gnaws at him.
How could it not?
Through fuel conservation, experience and sufficient speed, the driver who finished third in last year’s race felt poised to win his first “500.” At a minimum, Rahal felt he and eventual winner Helio Castroneves were the drivers to beat in the late going.
Then disaster struck. On Rahal’s final pit stop, the left rear wheel didn’t attach properly. While Rahal stopped short of explaining why the No. 15 United Rentals Honda left the pit box amid trouble, the fact of the matter is it did, and more trouble awaited. Just as Rahal rounded the curve on the warmup lane approaching Turn 2, the wheel slid off, pitching the car into the SAFER Barrier.
Fortunately, Rahal’s car wasn’t struck by the oncoming pack, but its impact with the barrier was hard enough to cause significant damage and end his day. Compounding matters was a 32nd-place finish, scoring a mere 11 points toward an NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship fight he expected to be in right now.
Instead, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been forced to regroup. A weekend away from racing gave them the time to do so.
“The guys needed a break; everybody needed a break … go see their families for a minute, recharge the batteries,” Rahal said. “Our guys had a couple of days off, had a long weekend. They needed that badly.”
Rahal said the team gathered to discuss the aforementioned pit stop and the crash that followed. The review, he said, led to a discovery that should help them avoid such an instance in the future, but he didn’t want to single out anyone or any change in procedures.
“What happened is, one mistake led to multiple others,” he said. “We don’t need to point down to one single person because all of us have a part in that. We’ve broken it down. Certainly, I think going forward we’ll be in a better place.
“As the old saying goes, we win as a team, lose as a team. It hasn’t been discussed internally since the review. Everybody accepted what went wrong. Now, we’re moving forward. Now, we’re focused on Detroit and making the rest of this year as best we can.”
The rest of this year begins Friday at Belle Isle Park with a 75-minute practice (5 p.m. ET on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service) for this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, a doubleheader known as the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. The 70-lap races will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at noon, both on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Rahal is a two-time winner of the event, the only INDYCAR SERIES driver to win both races in a single weekend (2017). He started the first of those races from the NTT P1 Award pole, and he finished third in one of the races in 2015.
Certainly, this is an event in which Rahal is confident he can get back into championship contention. He is eighth in the standings, 100 points out of the lead with 11 races remaining.
“We’re in a good spot,” Rahal said. “We’ve done a great job this year. Our two misses are at St. Petersburg and Indy, and both of those (we’re) running right at the front of the grid.
“Unfortunately, you’re not going to win a championship having errors like that, but we had a great shot to finish on the podium at St. Pete, and we had a great shot to win the Indy 500. That’s all we can ask for.”
This next part of the season sets up well for Rahal and the No. 15 United Rentals Honda. After Detroit, the Rev Group Grand Prix presented by American Medical Response at Road America (June 19-20) is another of his favorite events, and then comes the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (July 3-4). Rahal was born an hour away in the Columbus, Ohio, suburbs.
“I’m excited for what’s ahead,” he said. “I’m excited for next May, clearly. But for now we’re just going to focus on Detroit, then Road America, then go home to Mid-Ohio. For me, (Mid-Ohio) is going to be a big weekend, so I’m just trying to focus on those right now and move on.”
Rahal believes he needs to be the leader of where the team wants to go. While he once was the youngest race winner in INDYCAR SERIES history – he was 19 years old when he won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2008 – he is now a 15-year series veteran at age 32 with six career wins. He has finished as high as fourth in the standings (2015), was fifth in 2016 and sixth last year.
Rahal also recognizes that his family’s last name is first on the company letterhead, a sign that he should lead by example. That includes inspiring employees working on Takuma Sato’s No. 30 Panasonic/Mi-Jack Honda and the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda that Santino Ferrucci will drive this weekend in Detroit. Ferrucci finished sixth at Indy, Sato 14th.
“I think everybody looks to their driver … how does the driver lead, how does the driver carry themselves, what is that mentality like to keep everybody motivated,” Rahal said. “I certainly try (to lead).”
That leadership will be called upon now more than ever given the setback of Indy. The road to a title continues.
“It’s not over,” Rahal said of the season. “We’re going to keep our heads down (and work).”
This weekend will see same-day NTT P1 Award qualifying for each race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, with the sessions airing on NBCSN and Peacock (Saturday at 11 a.m. ET, Sunday at 9:15 a.m. ET). Saturday’s race will green flag at 2:05 p.m. ET; Sunday’s will come at 12:50 p.m. ET. Both races will be broadcast live on NBC.