INDIANAPOLIS — Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been trying for years to get back near the top of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Just three years ago, they won the Indianapolis 500 with Takuma Sato and had third place with Graham Rahal. Just two years ago, Graham Rahal snookered the field by saving enough fuel to have one less stop than everyone else. He pit from the lead on Lap 118 but when existing the warmup lane, the left rear tire wasn’t secured on the stop prior and it fell off causing Rahal’s No. 15 Dallara-Honda to spin and hit the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 2.
Now, two years later, this…
3 of the bottom 4 starters in next Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Also they’re sending one car home – Graham Rahal’s.
In the final seconds of Sunday’s Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Harvey bumped Rahal out and himself in. It was a terrible feeling for Harvey because he wanted to be happy that he knew that he was going to be in the Indy 500, but he felt a pit in his stomach because it comes at the expense of not only a teammate, but a great friend too.
“It’s not a good feeling, to be honest with you,” Harvey said after getting his way in. “It’s not a moment necessarily for celebration. As a team we’re going to be starting 30th, 31st and 33rd, and I hated it today, felt like we were in the Hunger Games with our own team.
“But of the four people driving, three of them are in. I know it’s not great odds and it’s not a great feeling. To be honest, it’s unbelievable relief. I’ve got to be honest with you. It’s actually quite hard to process it.
“There’s a lot of emotions. Like massively grateful to be in the race, massively sad that we bumped out a teammate because I know what that means for the entire team.
“For anyone who thinks we’re jumping up and down celebrating, there’s a little bit mistaken today. I think the best emotion is going to sleep tonight, to be honest. I reckon the sooner we can get done with this day, the better.”
The only reason Rahal is out is because of a weight jacker breaking not only this morning, but on Lap 1 of qualifying too.
“We had a weight jacker failed during the run” a dejected Rahal said on pit road. “It’s gotten to the right that ruins the handling of the car. Ruins the aerodynamics because of the way that it changes the rear right up, but you can’t do anything. It happened on the first lap. You tried to adjust the tools in the car, which one which is the front bar, and unfortunately, everything that needed to happen. It didn’t.
“So you know, that’s not an excuse. It’s actually failed on us this morning in practice. We thought we’d fix it and it failed again on the first lap today. You know, right there and so is that enough to make a difference? Today it doesn’t make it any sweeter. Whether it’s jacker or me it still sucks.”
Nevertheless, something needs to change again. This is completely unacceptable that Rahal isn’t in the field and the cars are that slow. They’ve got the state-of-the-art Brownsburg facility. They’re hiring more and more people in the engineering room. They’re trying. It’s not for a lack of effort.
While the trio of drivers returned this year from last, the team was hopeful that coming into this season, they way that they operated would further solidify that RLL is moving forward.
Last week it looked like they were. But in the biggest race on the biggest stage, they were exposed.
“Yeah, I feel really good about where we’re at,” Rahal said preseason. “As I was thinking about this exact kind of media conference last year, I was pretty reserved in some of my comments about the outlook, and I was thinking about it this year, I feel a lot more positive.
“I think Stefano (Sordo) has done a great job as he’s come in, but I think also organizationally from the team perspective we seem to be in a much better place. Everybody is working towards achieving the same goals.
The engineering side is more focused I would say. Not that they weren’t last year, but I would say more focused on the right things and not spending time doing things that aren’t moving the program forward.
“I feel really good about where we stand.
“I’m excited to be back with Eddie. I had a great time with Alan. I love Alan. But I think it was time. It was time for a change, and I think it was time for Jack, too, in particular.
“I felt like Jack, when I sit back and look at things from an unselfish perspective and the team, which I often do, I feel like Jack was going to need change to get him on track this year, and to be back with Mike or to be back with Eddie, who he was with last year, I didn’t feel like for him that was going to move the needle on his side of the team enough.
“But for me to have Eddie is awesome. Eddie and I are kind of both pretty low-key guys. We’re on the same page. Super fiery and competitive, but off the track I think we both have a similar mindset.
“Adam Kolesar is going to be the assistant. He’ll be race engineer I’m sure shortly with us. Adam has been under Alan for a long time. He’s a great kid. The hardest working guy on our team by far, not even close, and to have him with Eddie I think will also help further his career.
“We’ve got a really good staff obviously with Derek Davidson on my car, as well, this year. I’m excited about that because I’ve never gotten to work with Double D in that regard, and he’s a guy I have tremendous respect for as a leader, an organizer and a manager and everything else.
“I’m excited about that.
“We’ve had a little bit of turnover this year, as to be expected. There was time for change in certain things. But with Eddie, he and I won five times in three years. We know how to win together, and hopefully we can get this thing back on track. We’re pretty fired up about it.”
Rahal also mentioned that a huge positive is that the direction is now simplified. Bringing Sordo on was a huge moment with is experience and direction which solidified Rahal’s thinking process from before.
“I think what we needed most was pretty simple, and that’s just direction,” he noted. “I thought that from the top on down, we needed a clearer path, from the engineering corps in particular. We didn’t have a technical director. We didn’t really have somebody that was leading the charge. We didn’t have enough depth.
“That’s becoming clearer to us now that we know like what McLaren is doing. With Stefano coming in you see what all they’re doing, and we were not even in the ballpark as far as depth and stuff like that. We’ve learned that now. We’ve been able to add. We’ve gotten ourselves into a really good spot.
“You see, though, it’s not like we’ve fired a bunch of engineers. Our guys are good. We’ve got good people. But we needed direction, and we needed somebody to kind of stand up and go, no, this is a — I’m not going to say what it is, but there was some testing we’ve done for a while that we’ve all been saying, this is worthless, we’re getting nothing out of it, but we kept getting told, no, we’ve got to do it.
“Luckily Stefano comes in and says, that’s worthless. Why are you doing that? Thank goodness. Here’s somebody else who can back up what we’ve been saying for a long time. Now we can focus our energy. Engineers aren’t doing all these crazy projects. It’s just let’s focus on what actually can move the needle.
“I thought that’s what Stefano really brought to the table. Kind of helped drive us a little bit better, so I’m really excited about that. We’ve obviously all talked about Ryan Harbar a lot this off-season. I gave him — he’s our trainer, head of human performance for us.
“Given him a lot of s— about the fact that he’s gotten more media attention than anybody else in the INDYCAR paddock this off-season.
“But having said that, he has absolutely changed the mental side and the culture within the team and gotten everybody locked in and focused and working out and using the sauna and playing pickleball tournaments at the end of the day for the camaraderie and the competition, and getting everybody — I mean, the pit stop practice have been amazing, the breakdown of the videos and everything.
“Ryan has also done a great job, I think, just moving the needle on the mental scope for the staff, for us to make our game to the next level.
“Hopefully we can put all those pieces together and have a great year.”
Now you get this and one that Bobby Rahal isn’t happy about.
“I’m glad for Jack that for his guys and all kudos to those guys that got it together today and really happy Christian,” Bobby Rahal told a small group of reporters on pit road. “And so, you know, having been there before and you know Hinch was in 2018.
“Jack hasn’t had many things to cheer about this year, or last for that matter. So you know, I’m…I’m happy for Jack and I really, and yeah, that’s my big thing for him mentally that gets him going again. Naturally, I’m really disappointed in you know, for Graham, but what can you say?
“We weren’t fast enough and that’s what race is all about is being fast enough. What are you going to do? I feel bad for him. You know, I feel worse for the cars we gave our drivers and we’ve got to get our act in order.”