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IndyCar Portland

Rahal warns IndyCar rivals “our race car is better than our qualifying car”

Polewinner Graham Rahal has raised the stakes with a brazen statement to rivals in the paddock ahead of today’s IndyCar race at Portland International Raceway.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

The 34-year-old Ohio native captured his second pole of the season in Saturday’s qualifying session and did so as the only driver in the Fast Six to remain on the harder primary, black sidewall tyre compound.

The softer alternate, red-labeled rubber was the option the rest of the group opted for and trailed in his wake. 

The pace felt familiar for Rahal, who compared it to the Brickyard weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last month, when he qualified on pole, led the most laps and finished second after Scott Dixon triumphed on an alternate strategy.

“We had that [pace] at Indy,” Rahal said. “We've got that again here.

“I think our race car is going to be better than our qualifying car. I said that at Indy GP. I think we showed that, and I think here we're in a pretty good position.

“Obviously it was nice to run the blacks. I think Firestone has done a good job here. The tire is very, very tricky though, the red and the black, frankly – there's big deg. The peak is very, very early. I think reds after lap 2 are pretty well gone.

“But [in practice] we decided not to run as many sets as most guys. I think everybody in the field except for the RLL cars used two sets of tyres or some used two [in Friday practice], one [in Saturday practice]. We just used one per session, and we wanted to try to keep a set, and everything worked out today. Thank God for that.

“But we're excited and it would just feel good after all these years and close calls to win again.”

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has enjoyed past success at the 1.964-mile, 12-turn natural terrain road course, with Takuma Sato jumping from 20th to victory in 2018. In 2021, Rahal led 36 laps before being caught out by a strategy play that relegated him to 10th by the end.

Rahal’s last IndyCar win came at Detroit in 2017, when he won both races in a double-header weekend.

“I feel the level of the driver, the talent level has increased so much,” Rahal said. “We don't get as many yellows anymore, and so hopefully (today) we can have a really clean start. We can control this race and make it pretty straightforward strategy.”

And although the favoured strategy in recent years has been with the alternates, Rahal teased it could be different for the 110-lap race.

“We'll see,” Rahal said. “I think the reds are going to throw a lot of people for a twist tomorrow.

“Obviously the track temp and everything should be cooler tomorrow. This race has always been a red race, traditionally has, and I think we might see some different stuff this year, which is why we were keeping all those blacks, frankly, to be able to go into the race with. We'll see what happens.”

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, David Salters, HPD

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, David Salters, HPD

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Rahal added: “The hotter the temp, I think it's going to kill the reds. They saturate very quickly. I think they get very hot, and it creates further problems.

“But tomorrow is a cooler day, too, and if you're up front, God bless we have a good start and we can do that.

“When you're in that position, I think you can try to take care of them and maintain the reds a little bit better. Let's see what we get, frankly. Let's see what we get tomorrow, go racing, and hopefully have a good clean start and make those things last as long as we can.

“To do this in two, you've got to go, what, 35, 36 laps on your reds? That's a lot to ask. I've already done it this weekend on blacks, so I know the blacks can do it and do it competitively, but it's a lot to ask of the reds, I think.

“Most people won't do it, too, to be clear, but if you tried.”

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