Rahal encouraged by RLL form

Michael Levitt/Lumen

Rahal encouraged by RLL form

IndyCar

Rahal encouraged by RLL form

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Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s debut as a three-car NTT IndyCar Series operation had a healthy dose of adversity at St. Petersburg. The squad owned by Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, and Mike Lanigan also demonstrated great resolve as setbacks in practice with crashes by Jack Harvey and Christian Lundgaard forced the squad into an afternoon of high aggression in the 100-lap race.

With Graham Rahal’s move from a starting spot of P11 to a finish of P7, Lundgaard’s rise from P15 to P11 and Harvey’s big migration from P23 to P13, the RLL trio improved 18 total positions at the Firestone Grand Prix. And while the P7-11-13 output was impressive, it also spoke to how easily a team’s big plans for season-opening dominance can be derailed with relative ease. Without the setbacks, Rahal is confident RLL would have been farther up in the final running order.

“You know, that was a little bit of a messy weekend,” Rahal told RACER. “And that happens. With Jack’s accident, and Christian had contact in the same session and then had a brake line issue, our crew did a wonderful job getting the cars on track for qualifying. But all of those things, with the current short format of race weekends, all those things make it very difficult to recover from sometimes, and we’re all guilty of it. Man, I’ve hit walls before, too, and it set us back, and that did cause a little bit of a tailspin going into qualifying that we had to overcome.”

After a midfield start, Rahal came on strong as the race progressed in St. Petersburg. Richard Dole/Lumen

In typical fashion for Rahal, race day saw forward movement and he was encouraged by the pace his No. 15 Honda had to offer while chasing Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean from Andretti Autosport and Rinus VeeKay from Ed Carpenter Racing home to the checkered flag.

“On race day, all our cars were solid, all the pit stops were solid, but gaining track position was difficult,” he added. “We were able to make up some positions, obviously — and it should have been more, but at the same time, I didn’t drive to my full potential in the race. I passed Colton on the restart, and when he passed me back, it was just simply me getting stuck in the fuel-saving mindset and I wasn’t looking in my mirrors and he just snuck under me. I told myself that I had to get my head out my ass a little bit. Giving up that spot hurt me because he was no better than me. Grosjean was no better.”

It wasn’t the 1-2-3 finish RLL wanted, but Rahal says the feeling leaving St. Petersburg and moving onto the upcoming rounds is one of encouragement and belief that better days are ahead.

“We’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep folks’ spirits up because we have big plans for this team. We finished seventh as our best, but it could also feel like we finished last because of the big expectations we have,” he said. “But we were solid — our race pace was solid. We need to improve a little bit, and I think that we will. You don’t always get the thing that you want most right away.

“The positive thing right now is that all of our cars are responding and reflecting the same things, the same handling characteristics, so the three of us can improve all of that together. That’s a real positive for us to be able to build upon.”

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