Graham Rahal will pursue the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship with a new race engineer in charge of his No. 15 Honda.
The third-generation driver will have Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Tom German overseeing his title-contending entry while Eddie Jones, who played a vital role in turning RLL’s fortunes around, shifts to the No. 16 Honda driven by the incoming Takuma Sato.
With a stacked engineering group led by Jones, damper engineer Martin Pare, vehicle dynamics engineer Mike Talbott, and German – who came on board after leading Alexander Rossi to an Indy 500 win with Andretti Autosport – Rahal’s single-car effort has been among the most impressive in the series. By adding a second entry for Sato, RLL’s leadership group felt the conditions were right to promote German and pair Jones with the Japanese star without risking Rahal’s No. 15 program.
“Working with Eddie as my engineer has been amazing; since he came onboard, we’ve become a powerhouse team with just one car,” Rahal (at left, above) told RACER. “Dad and [team manager] Rico [Nault] thought we were in a good enough place where we could have Eddie work with Takuma, and Tom engineer my car, and that together, it was the smartest way to get the best out of becoming a two-car team again.”
The change, as Rahal sees it, should pay off handsomely once testing begins in January.
“The good thing is it’s not like Tom’s new to the team and we have to learn each other’s styles; he’s been with me all year and he’s worked with Eddie, and Martin, and Mike, and we won a couple of races together,” he added. “And you take all of his experience before, from Penske and Andretti and everything else he’s done, and yeah, we’re confident in keeping the engineering team on my car as strong as it’s been. This is the only change that’s been made.”
Considering the methodical, low-key approach Jones is known for, Rahal believes he and Sato will be a perfect match as driver and engineer.
“I think that’s a big part of what Dad and Rico saw in them,” he continued. “Takuma had that [at A.J. Foyt Racing] with Don Halliday, and they were successful together. Eddie’s a lot like Don. He’d old school, super mellow, and that’s what I think’s going to get the best from Takuma. If they’re clicking, and we’re clicking on my car, that’s going to be a powerful combination.”
Known more for his errors and crashes the first time he drove for RLL in 2012, the Sato that will partner with Rahal in 2018 is barely recognizable. Confident and at peace, Sato (below) could help RLL to move even higher in the standings.
“Sato, he’s such a warm and genuine guy. I was driving for Chip [Ganassi] when he was here a few years ago, so it’s hard to compare it exactly, but I will say that he’s in the best place I’ve ever seen him,” Rahal observed.
“And we’ve put a great group of people around him. The thing I think that says the most about our team is we’re somebody that people want to work for. Probably, that isn’t something every team can claim.”
Rahal points to the rapid recruitment for Sato’s No. 16 Honda as an example of how far RLL has come in recent years, and how it should benefit the program in 2018.
“The deal with Takuma was done after Mid-Ohio and you know how it is, guys hear about it in the garages and way before it was announced, we basically had the entire team in position before the last race. They started for us right after Sonoma,” he said. “So by the time we get to St. Pete, they’ll be together six months, and they’re working next to the 15 car guys, so it just makes a stronger environment for everyone when we start racing.
“And these guys hang out at home. It isn’t just at the track. We have a team that’s really like a family. That, to me, is where we can make a difference going against everyone else.”