2023 Bump Puts Rahal in Better Spot To Race for ‘500’ Win

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Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal said the best thing to happen to the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team was also the worst thing to happen to it.

The moment was Rahal getting bumped out of last year’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge by then-teammate Jack Harvey. Three of the four cars in the Last Row Shootout, vying for the final three spots in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” belonged to RLL.

That rock-bottom moment sparked changes. RLL co-owner Bobby Rahal spearheaded an “Indy Recovery Plan” last summer.

“I said before, I'll say it again, I think me not qualifying was the best thing that could have happened versus anybody else because it clearly rings home for my dad (Bobby Rahal) and everybody else,” he said. “Not saying it doesn't matter for any of the others, but it got serious in a hurry, and that made us really lock in and focus on fixing a lot of items, particularly when it came to Indy.”

The words and actions of this endeavor become real next week. Indianapolis Motor Speedway plays host to the next two races on the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule, the Sonsio Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11 and the 108th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26.

Before RLL gets the opportunity to see if the fruits of its labor were made for the 2.5-mile oval configuration, it’ll turn the focus to the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course which has been a good track for the team.

“Indy GP, of course, I feel good,” Graham Rahal said. “I can't seem to think that much is going to have changed from last year. We should be pretty strong.”

In the two road courses races last year at IMS, RLL swept both NTT P1 Pole Awards, with Christian Lundgaard leading the field to green in last May’s Sonsio Grand Prix, and Rahal starting first in August’s Gallagher Grand Prix.

While neither driver won that respective race, RLL qualified first, fourth and eighth in the May road race and first, second and eighth in the August road race. It finished fourth, 10th and 20th, and second, fourth and 14th, respectively, in the two races.

RLL also improved its overall road and street course package after Indy. Lundgaard won last July’s Honda Indy Toronto a day after earning the NTT P1 Pole Award. He charged to a top-10 points finish in 2023. Rahal excelled elsewhere, too, including winning the pole at Portland.

“I'll just say our struggles of last year are things that I had said to the team for years,” Rahal said. “It wasn't that we all of a sudden were slow. We were getting slow. Like we were falling behind for the years prior.”

Rahal admitted the 2020 Indianapolis 500 victory by then-teammate Takuma Sato and the run Rahal had in 2021 where the team used strategy to pull one over on the field by needing one less pit stop to everyone else’s two masked the team’s lack of performance on the IMS oval.

“When you have that sort of results, the team is like, ‘Oh, no, you guys are fine,’ Rahal said. “Well, the reality was we were never that fast. In 2020, we didn't qualify in a superspeedway trim like in an ordinary year you would have. In 2021, we were pretty average, frankly, and in the race we kind of moved our way forward through strategy.

“Last year not qualifying was a real shot to like, ‘Hey, we are really far behind, and we need to get serious about this in a hurry.’ It allowed the owners to dig in because I don't think many of the issues were issues that they were frankly that aware of.

“The realities were the things that we were spending on weren't the right things. I don't know that they had the awareness of that fully, and I think last year brought a severe intensity and focus to what was going on and brought the change that was necessary.”

Team owner Rahal lived this nightmare before as a driver. He won the 1992 INDYCAR SERIES championship but was bumped 30 years before his son, from the 1993 Indianapolis 500.

Rahal came back to finish third in 1994. Can Graham follow suit?

“I feel very confident here,” he said. “You've got to come in here with the belief that you can win. I firmly believe if you come to the Indy 500 just to compete in it, you shouldn't be here. It's just like if you're going to go race in the Daytona 500 just to do it or Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring, 24 Hours of Le Mans, there's no point. It's not fun if you don't have a chance to win. That's the reality.

“I feel really good about where we're at, where we've developed to. I think we've got some strong opportunities ahead of us, and I'm excited to get back for May.

“This is circled on the schedule every year. This race means a lot more than it ever did before. To have the opportunity to just get back out here and try to qualify and put ourselves in a really good place, I think, is going to be key, and I think the team has done a great job.”