INDIANAPOLIS — The last few years, the Rahal/Leterman/Lanigan Racing group hasn’t had the right pace to compete for a good qualifying spot here in Indianapolis. Prior to this year, Graham Rahal had started 14th or worse in his last seven Indy 500 starts – all with RLL. In 2018, they added Takuma Sato to the mix and they were only 16-30. Last year, it was an improvement in qualifying 14th (Sato) and 17th (Rahal).
But, this year just feels different for them. This year, they feel like they have the most momentum than they’ve had in a while. They’ve looked good in traffic and have proven this year to have the pace to compete.
“I’m excited,” said Rahal who will start eighth on Sunday. “As a team we’ve done a really good job kind of clicking through everything. I feel like we’ve been extremely efficient in everything that we’ve needed to do, things that we’ve gotten done. I’m pleased with that.
“I feel good. I feel good about our chances, I really do. I feel like we’ve got a really solid race car and there’s a lot of guys that don’t.
“I’m very proud of our organization.”
Rahal, finished 10th in this race in 2018 and was battling for a spot well inside of the top 10 last year before crashing out on Lap 176 with Sebastien Bourdais in Turn 3.
This season, Rahal has been stout. He came from the back in the second race at Iowa last month to finish on the podium. He’s come home in the top seven in three of the last five races run on the year.
With how his race car feels, he’s confident heading into the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
“Yeah, I mean, I think we’re solid,” Rahal continued. “Our three cars, I think our guys have done a great job working through all of this, trying to stick to a plan, try different things, see where we are.
“At the end of the day yesterday I felt pretty good.”
Rahal was quick on the four lap average chart on Fast Friday and drew the no. 1 qualifying spot for Saturday. He’d turn that into a Fast Nine appearance. With how tough he says that it is to pass here, that could give him a shot at the win on Aug. 23.
“Having said that, it’s still hard,” Rahal said to pass. “It still is very, very hard to get super close, to be able to go and just drive on by somebody.
“I was with Fernando (Alonso) this morning, we were talking about it. The difference versus last time he was here in 2017, it’s so different. It is so different to drive these cars today than then. It’s going to be a major challenge.
“It’s difficult to overtake in the car in the pack. By yourself, I think you get balance right. But in the traffic, get closer to the people, and be ready for the overtaking, that’s you need a lot of work driving style as well as setup of the car.”
Rahal notes that qualifying will be so important this year because of that. He’s not alone. All the drivers are saying the same thing on just how important qualifying is going to be for this year’s race with how much track position is going to be key for next Sunday.
Sato, agreed. He says that it’s just been so hard to pass in practice, that qualifying position is going to be crucial. That’s why he’s happy to be starting on the front row in third. The only other time that he started in the top 10 for the ‘500, he won.
“It’s difficult to overtake in the car in the pack,” said the 2017 Indy 500 winner. “By yourself, I think you get balance right. But in the traffic, get closer to the people, and be ready for the overtaking, that’s you need a lot of work driving style as well as setup of the car.”
Part of the overtaking difficulties is that the Aeroscreen is making it tough to find the limit.
“There’s no doubt,” Rahal said. “It’s very different inside of our cars right now. The car is a handful with the way that it reacts with dirty air. It’s very different. The fine line of this deal this whole time is, where is that fine line? You really don’t know until you’ve gone to far. You don’t want to be the guy to test that out. It’s really going to be a challenge.
“Sometimes it’s just purely reacting. I feel like I have pretty good car control. I feel like I have a pretty good feel for what I need and where the car is. Hopefully we don’t have to test too many of those skills on Sunday.”
RLL is due and we’ve seen six straight years with a first time winner in this race. Maybe it’s RLL’s turn and if so, watch out for Graham Raha