SALINAS, Calif — Bobby Rahal has had an up-and-down 2022 year. The bad was surgery on a health ailment and watching his organization struggle for the first half of the NTT INDYCAR Series season. The good being another grand baby recently being added to the family and a few days later, toasting a Rookie of the Year driver as a part of his stable of drivers.
The turning point of this wild season took part this past July. He had already had surgery and was on the mend. The team elected to use the off week to go down to Sebring to test. They pretty much had the track to themselves.
That hot and humid Florida day, transformed how the rest of the 2022 season would go.
At that part of the year, we had raced 9 times. Graham Rahal sat 15th in points with 0 top 5 finishes, 4 top 10’s and 0 laps led. Rookie Christian Lundgaard was in 17th with 0 top 5’s, 2 top 10’s and 1 lap led. Jack Harvey was a distant 20th with no top 5’s, no top 10’s and no laps led.
That’s why that test was welcomed. They had expanded to a 3rd full-time car and had lost some of their engineering advantages that they previously had. With 2 new drivers in the mix as well, it was certainly a learning curve to say the least.
“Yeah, it’s been a tough year for us,” Rahal said on Sunday afternoon from Laguna Seca. “The first third or half of the year, very spotty. We did not give our drivers, Christian, Graham or Jack, the cars that they deserved to have.
“Having said that, everybody pulled themselves together and kind of figured it out. Probably since, I guess, Toronto or just before Toronto, the performance as a team increased measurably compared to where we were, and then we really saw what our drivers could do.
“As a driver, and I’ve been there, if you don’t have the right equipment, I don’t care how good you are, you’re not going to be able to show it. But this team really came together. There was a lot of hard work throughout the team.
“I mean, it was tough. It was tough. Midpoint of the season, it was tough.
“There was a lot of soul searching going on by halfway in the season. A year earlier we’d been much more competitive. We had embarked on a few development things, and there was clearly a lot of questioning.
“We did that, and I have to say I think Graham is the one that really pushed that we needed to go figure this out, and I think all the other guys, drivers, felt that.
“But we needed to really be honest with ourselves as a team, and I’ve seen this before where teams have gone down certain paths because you believe in it. As I told our guys, don’t fall in love with an idea because it’s all about the reality.
“So they all went down and did this test, and Christian, Jack, Graham spent a day or two in Sebring in the middle of summer. It was hotter than hell. And we found a lot of answers.
“Some of those answers were not friendly to the things that we believed at the time. We took those answers, and again, we faced reality, and the next race I think was Toronto maybe. Christian qualified, I think, sixth, Graham was maybe eighth, Graham was fourth, Christian was sixth, I think. Very strong performances, and it was like, okay, we’re back in the hunt.
“The findings from that test really contributed to the second half of the year or the third third of the year because the first half of the year was tough.
I”‘m proud of our team because there was no — everybody was willing to accept the findings, whatever they may be, and there was no ego involved. All we wanted to do was become better, become where we were and beyond, and I think the results of that test were crucial for the remainder of our year.
“Everybody stayed the course, worked really hard, and we saw the improvements in the performance overall.”
Boy did they ever. Harvey had a top 10 in Nashville, Lundgaard had 5 top 10’s in the final 8 races including a pair of top 5’s. One of those was a runner-up finish in the Gallagher Grand Prix back on July 30. He would qualify 3rd a week later. Rahal netted 5 top 10’s including a pair of top 5’s himself.
This end of the season pace was exactly what they’ve been searching for and gives them an added boost heading into the 2023 season.
“All I can tell you is we’re really excited about next year, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that Christian, Graham, Jack have the cars they need to really figure in the championship,” Rahal continued.
He’s very excited about the ability and future of Lundgaard. His 5th place finish opened Rahal’s eyes even more knowing that the skies the limit for his new Rookie of the Year.
“I think Christian is a big part of the future of RLL, and as you saw earlier this week, we’re bringing people in to help raise the game of RLL, and I think combined — there’s Christian, obviously, other new people coming in, and the whole idea, we’re here to win, and we feel that Christian can win,” he says.
“I think he showed that this year. I mean, at Harvest Grand Prix, we won the race because we were the first legal car.”
Lundgaard is fully focused here. He signed a multi-year contract last month to stay with RLL and hopes that he can be in the hunt for a championship many times in years to come.
“I think everything is possible. I’m not racing to finish second, so I’ll give it my best shot,” he says.