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Rahal encouraged despite limited running in Indy 500 Open Test

Graham Rahal found positives with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s superspeedway program even with rain interrupting testing for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Photo by: Penske Entertainment

It was roughly 11 months ago when Rahal was left sitting on the right sidepod of his No. 15 RLL Honda with his head in his hands and overcome with emotion after failing to qualify for the Indy 500.

Rahal was able to start the race after being called up by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing to replace Stefan Wilson, who sustained a fractured thoracic vertebra in a practice crash a day after qualifying, but there was still a matter of RLL’s Indy woes.

All three of its full-time entries were fighting in the Last Chance qualifying round which led to Rahal being bumped out. Additionally, its Indy 500-only entry – piloted by Katherine Legge – started 29th in the field of 33. The issues also went beyond the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with RLL scoring no top-10 finishes on ovals in 2023.

All of that magnified the importance of this week’s two-day test while also bringing back Takuma Sato – who claimed RLL’s last oval win in the 2020 Indy 500 – in a fourth entry for the month of May.

Although Rahal only logged 38 laps on Wednesday before poor weather halted running after just three hours, there were noticeable gains.

“The way that the car accelerated off the corner, the gears in which you were able to hold even when the car would say dip down to an RPM range that's below where I wanted to be,” said Rahal, who ended up 13th in the morning session – 19th overall – with a best lap of 222.366 mph.

“Traditionally, I have to downshift in order to build speed down the next straight, and today was the first time in a while I'd start to see speed, RPMs would start to come up like the car was responding well to it.

“Then the other thing was for me when I'd get a sniff of a tow today, so seven, eight seconds, entire front straight, the speed would pick up, and last year we would -- for most drivers they're probably thinking, yeah, that's obvious, that's the way it is. But last year that's not the way an RLL car was. We would probably fall further behind.”

 

Rahal pointed to multiple times in that scenario his pace picked up from 220.6 mph to 221.3 mph and continued to improve further into a run.

“That's just a good indication,” Rahal said. “Those are things that we didn't have last year. “It’s a shame not to get a little bit of race running because I would have liked to see it with the heaviest downforce, we could put on just to see where we are competitively, but it was nice to at least feel that a little.”

While Sato’s experience, which includes two Indy 500 victories, is something for RLL to lean back on, the team also brought 1999 Indy 500 winner Kenny Bräck in a driver coaching role. Both voices should significantly aid RLL’s other two full-time drivers Pietro Fittipaldi and Christian Lundgaard, who have combined for three starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

“Kenny has a lot of experience,” said Rahal, who has two podiums in 16 Indy 500 starts. “He's won here. It's important to have somebody like that, particularly for the younger guys, but it's also nice for me to have somebody to bounce ideas off of and relate to.

“I'm happy to have Kenny back. He'll be back here in May with us, and I look forward to it. I'd love to have Kenny around more, quite frankly. He's a guy who truly understands what the driver's position is, understands what all that entails, and as he once told me, the driver is the most influential part of an entire team because you literally and figuratively sit in the centre of everything.

“So, everything revolves around you, whether it's the mechanics, whether it's the engineering, the team management, the team owners. They're all directly connected constantly to the driver, and the driver gets to see it all, and experience it all. He's lived that. He's seen that, and hopefully, he can have a really positive impact on what we do going forward.”

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