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November 25, 2018

2018 IndyCar Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

o  2018: 8th in the championship 

o  Wins: 0, Top 5: 3, Top 10: 12, Poles: 0, Laps Led: 29

o  Best Finish: 2nd (Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg)

For a driver that established himself over the past few seasons as one of the more exciting drivers in the series, Graham Rahal had a disappointing 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign.

The outlook was high for the 29-year-old Columbus, Ohio native as he headed into his 12th Verizon IndyCar Series season. He was coming off three straight years of winning a race and finishing no worse than sixth in the championship. The team had also expanded to two cars, signing reining Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato to drive the team’s second car.

The team expansion gave the six-time IndyCar race winner an earnest teammate but presented the challenge as the team had to adjust to being a two-car team once again.

The beginning of Rahal’s season started hot with a come-from-behind second place run at the season opener at St. Petersburg after starting 24th. He showed pace throughout the opening six rounds of the year and clicked off top 10 runs with ease all through May with the lowest finish being 10th at the Indianapolis 500.

Indy was a highlight moment of the year as he battled his way from 30th on the grid to finish 10th.

The only blemish on his record was a crash at first race at Belle Isle in Detroit that left him with a 23rd-place finish. He rebounded from the crash and continued his top 10 streak by clicking off a fifth at Detroit Race 2, sixth at Texas and Road America and a seventh at Iowa.

His consistent string of good runs gave him a steady hold on sixth-place in the points. Things took a turn in the wrong direction at Toronto as a broken tow link relegated him to a 21st-place finish.

A couple of top 10s at Mid-Ohio (ninth) and Gateway (10th) softened the blow, but contact with Spencer Pigot on the first lap at Pocono left him with a 14th-place finish and dug him back into a hole.

Things went from bad to worse in the last two races as a crash in the opening lap at Portland and a mechanical failure at Sonoma prevented any last-minute jump in the standings and left him eighth in the final tally.

While he was quick and steady throughout much of the year, poor results in three of the last six races prevented Rahal from getting into the top five in points.

Qualifying was also a struggle for Rahal in 2018, averaging a 13.2 starting spot with nine starts being 12th or worse. He made the best of the situation on a few occasions, with the Indy 500 being the most notable as he passed 20 cars to score a 10th-place finish.

While his season does not look extremely poor on paper, it was a bit of a letdown considering that Rahal fought for the champonship on a regular basis from 2015-17.

With a year to learn the universal aero kit and work out the nuances of running two cars, there is a good chance for Rahal to have a redemption year in 2019. The team has upped their engineering game by hiring former Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team manager Piers Phillips, who takes on the role as president at Rahal Letterman Lanigan, along with veteran engineer Allan McDonald, who most recently worked with Ed Carpenter Racing.

 

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