Big things were expected from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to open 2023 after performing a sweeping reorganization of its technical department during the offseason, and after completing the first two races of the NTT IndyCar Series races of the year, the Indiana-based team continues to search for the finest version of itself.
A hard crash for RLL sophomore Jack Harvey at St. Petersburg and overall lack of front-running speed presented a challenge in round one; Christian Lundgaard was the team’s best qualifier in 11th and improved to ninth, and Graham Rahal motored from 20th to sixth in the accident-filled event, but the team had its sights set on starting towards the front and finishing in the vicinity of the podium.
Texas Motor Speedway offered another chance for RLL to take a step forward, but like St. Petersburg, speed was elusive from the outset as all three drivers qualified between 24th and 28th. The 250-lap race was a punishing affair for the squad as the trio were lapped before the halfway point with Harvey leading the team home in 18th as Lundgaard followed home in 19th, three laps arrears. Making matters worse, Rahal was wrecked on lap 219, collateral damage in Devlin DeFrancesco’s crash that led his car to turn right into Rahal’s path entering Turn 3.
Unhurt in the brief 200mph flight and subsequent crash, Rahal held no grudge with the Andretti Autosport driver, but did lament the unsatisfactory start — its second in consecutive seasons — after being checked and cleared by IndyCar’s medical team.
“You know our setup to start the race is so far out of the window, it’s just everything I can do to hang on as long as I did, but that put us a couple laps down,” Rahal said. “Really in this situation, (definitely did) nothing wrong. It’s just a racing deal. It’s unfortunate, but I’m in one piece. You know, I cheated Texas again.”
Thanks to Rahal’s big drive in St Petersburg, the Texas crash and 24th-place finish has only dropped him to 13th in the standings. Lundgaard’s run to 19th moved him down to 14th, and Harvey’s Round 1 crash — also not of his making — and crossing the line in 18th on Sunday has him holding 22nd in the championship leading into Long Beach in two weeks’ time.
If the proud team can muster more pace on Fridays and Saturdays and improve their starting positions, the 2023 season they envisioned will be within reach.
“We move on to the next one, but definitely frustrated,” Rahal said. “I think this entire weekend we expected a lot out of the team and none of us were in the window, and for a team like us it’s absolutely unacceptable.”