Graham Rahal's Autoweek Blog
I think everybody knows it was a frustrating year in the IndyCar Series for the No. 15 Midas/ Big O Tires team, and a year that really didn't meet our expectations. Everyone thought as a team we would be more competitive and we'd be able to fight for wins and be right up front. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
What went wrong? It's hard to put a finger on exactly one thing. There are a lot of parts as you go through this. I think our guys gelled together very well and continue to do so; certainly a lack of depth within the engineering staff and the team didn't help. The people we have are great people. The problem is, we have four total guys who would go to and from the track every weekend, guys who when they came home were working, it seemed like, 24 hours a day, then back to the track 24 hours a day. That's versus a team like, for example, Ganassi, which has far more engineers. So I think we were a little bit behind just on depth.
But that's no excuse; we just didn't execute the way we would've liked. We didn't have a car that was always competitive. I'm sure if I go back and review myself, there are times I should've been better. There are mistakes I made that cost us. As I really look at this year, poor luck was the biggest story. A lot of people will say "yeah, well, you weren't quick." But if you look back at the stats and the way we generally moved forward, something would always go wrong. Sometimes it was out of our control, sometimes it was within our control. Looking at that sort of thing, though, we handed away easily 100 points just because something went wrong. So we just have to keep knocking on the door and eventually we'll knock it down.
If you look at where our highlights were, relatively good finishes on street courses were our strength. We were good in Long Beach, decent in Detroit, really strong in Brazil and the best car in Baltimore. Short ovals, Iowa was a strength, we won a qualifying-heat race there. Superspeedways? We were terrible. We started to get pretty solid at the end of the Fontana race before the engine blew up, but still, I felt almost every time I turned the car into a corner that I was going to spin out. That's pretty frustrating. Unfortunately, in this championship, you can't have a weakness because the field is so competitive, and that's what made us look so poor sometimes.
The good news is, I don't think we're done hiring strong people, and everybody that's involved in this deal is committed to winning. If anyone thinks that the performance we've given hasn't been embarrassing, trust me, we're all embarrassed. I know some people discount me as a driver but I can tell you for a fact that I can compete with the guys who are winning races. I've done it before, I did it very competitively in 2009 and at other times. We all have to commit ourselves: me as an individual, our owners, and our team, to winning. And I think guys like Bill Pappas -- who is coming on board as my new engineer for 2014 -- does nothing but help us in more ways than you can imagine. His experience is going to accelerate our learning curve and take us to a whole new level. One of the areas we know we have to work on is dampers, and we're committed and excited to do that.
Our goal is also to have a fully funded second car where we can go hire the best people. That isn't a done deal at this point, but we're working very hard on that.
Personally, what I can do is make sure I'm in the best physical condition possible. I do that every year, but I want to take that to the next level. I can be there every day with my guys and team, and make sure that we're really gelling and coming together as a unit, and that everybody is excited. You need to have people on a team who want to win and aren't worried or complaining about a workload. We're fortunate to have that.
I can try to do other forms of racing and brush up on my skills; I can study a lot of tape and data. At the end of the year, people saw a big improvement in my qualifying performance, and I think that comes from really looking at the data and figuring out how to get the most speed from these cars. These cars don't fit my driving style; I know that, so I have to try and change the way my mindset is and be better.
My style is a lot like my dad's. I'm a late-braking guy; I brake probably as late or even later than anybody else. Because of that, I tend to roll a lot of speed into the corner, but when you do that, it delays the on-throttle application. Back in the old days when you had 900 hp, you couldn't get midcorner and flatten the throttle to the floor, the car would never stick. Now it does. So it's not as important to get into the corner with so much speed, it's about how soon you can get back on the power because the time gain in these cars is always on the straightaway. As a driver, that's frustrating because the straightaway should be the easy part. But you have to change your mentality, and I'm working on that as hard as I can.
Put all of this stuff together, and every person at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing expects much different results in 2014.