INDYCAR Graham Rahal
INDYCAR Graham Rahal
Marshall Pruett & Robin Miller / Images by IMS Photo
NO. 15 RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN HONDA
Preseason hopes: "For this year, obviously the expectation rises a little. I just want to win."
2016 Best result: 1st (Texas)
2016 Championship position: 5th (484 points)
Rahal's 2015 campaign was pretty remarkable – but was it a surprise that he was able to back it up this time around?
PRUETT: No. Thanks to RLL holding onto its ridiculously talented staff and Graham's big step forward in 2015, there was little chance he or the team would go backwards.
MILLER: Not at all. He was so impressive as a teenager in Champ Car, and then with Newman/Haas before he went through a slump. But he always had that ability to pull out a fast lap in the closing seconds of qualifying to make the Fast Six, and nobody is better on starts and restarts. He's braver than the old man was, and getting smarter (like Bob) as he gets older. I suppose it surprised some people who had written Rahal off, but he's a damn good racer.
After two years, why does RLL still seem to be the only team that can fluently speak the language of the Honda aero kit?
PRUETT: The team made the early decision to follow its instincts with Honda's aero kit when its limitations were revealed in 2015, and I think that choice - to look inward for answers instead of relying heavily on data provided by the manufacturer - has only helped with how the heavily-revised 2016 aero kit was used. Pointing back to the first question and answer, RLL has assembled a wicked team to support Graham, and when they succeed, it's because of the group. Compare that to some entries where the driver is the most talented member of the team, or a program where the team flatters a driver with reduced talent, and you have the right balance of exceptional talent operating at a high level with RLL.
MILLER: Eddie Jones, Neil Fife, Mike Talbott and Martin Pare have developed a nice chemistry, and their experience has given Rahal the car to overcome Honda's aero kit deficiencies. They struggled a little at Indy and Pocono, but were stout everywhere else and spanked Andretti Autosport for a second straight season. And, most impressive of all, it's a one-car team.
Obviously the team has done an excellent job on the technical side, but Rahal himself has risen to the occasion. What has he added over the past year or two that he didn't have previously?
PRUETT: Maturity, which has brought mental clarity. Graham spent a lot of time in his head, worrying about far too many things that only served to distract from his primary duties behind the wheel. A horrible, confidence-killing 2014 season put him through the wringer mentally, and after going through the process of accepting his contributions to what went wrong, he emerged with a streamlined approach to his craft. That was his big breakthrough, and we've seen one hell of a fighter emerge since 2015.
MILLER: Confidence. A couple years ago he was talking about sports cars because IndyCar had become such a downer, but his Dad changed the environment. Bob stepped off the scoring stand, Ricardo Nault stepped in, and it was a fresh start. The engineering staff mentioned above clicked instantly, the pit stops became as good as anyone's in the paddock, and Graham got his head back in the game.
Would a teammate help or hinder?
PRUETT: He's finished fourth and fifth in consecutive seasons with the Honda package, and led every Honda-powered team in the championship for two years, but it's hard to picture RLL going much higher as a single-car program in its current guise. How far could he have gone with a Chevy aero kit and engine since 2015?
Granted, focusing on 2016, Rahal could have easily taken third in the standings; he had six finishes of 13th or worse and was only 20 points behind Helio Castroneves in third, but the gap to Simon Pagenaud and Will Power was too expansive.
It all points to a scenario where having an addition of a driver capable of elevating the team without robbing staff from Graham's car would only help RLL, and if we're talking about championships, a strong teammate to take points away from the other contenders would also have value. This is the best one-car program we've seen in forever, but IndyCar doesn't hand out awards for the top underdog. Plug in someone like Oriol Servia and the conversation would change.
MILLER: Depends. If it's Oriol Servia, absolutely, because they've meshed well before and Servia would provide that chassis feedback that Rahal never gets. But it's a short list right now because there are a lot of good kids out there that wouldn't be much help.
01-25-2017 05:15 PM
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