After an up and down season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver sees upswing in performance
I'm sure anyone who's watched most of the Verizon IndyCar Series season has seen Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing face a heck of a lot of ups and downs. That's part of racing, of course, but it becomes pretty frustrating when everybody is working so hard to achieve success.
But beginning at Iowa in early July, our team is starting to experience a little bit of success for everything we've put in. We're coming off three top 10s in the last four races, and the fourth race -- race two in Toronto -- should have been another top five, but we had a mechanical issue with a few laps left that took us out of it. All in all, I think we've proven as a team that we are finding what it takes to go quick. You look at where we are now, we're mixing it up with the Andretti cars, the Penskes, the Ganassis. I think that's a great achievement considering we're a one-car operation at this point.
The other thing we're starting to see is competitiveness on all types of circuits, be it ovals or street circuits or road courses. To get a top five the first weekend in August at Mid-Ohio -- which hasn't been my best track during my professional career -- means we're looking a lot better, and it's giving everybody a lot of energy and excitement about what's to come.
The schedule has been very busy for everyone in the sport; even on our days off, we've been forced to go test on those weekends because that's the only time that fits the condensed IndyCar schedule. So it's been pretty brutal for all the teams and all the crews, and we still have three more races to go, so we have to continue to work awfully hard, do our best and try to move ourselves up in the points and make a good run at it here at the end of the season.
I believe we can do that because we're finally getting the car to a point where I can attack with it. Some critics might be quick to say I just need to drive harder or I need to push the car to its limits more, but as every good race-car driver knows, if the car is outside the ballpark there's only so much you can do. Once you get it close, that's when a driver can make a difference. And I think from Detroit onward we've shown that we've been extremely competitive. We haven't always had the luck and we haven't had the results we could have, but we've been right there. You even look at Texas, a superspeedway … Ed Carpenter, who went on to win the race, had just put me a lap down when it went yellow. But I was dicing with guys who ended up finishing seventh and eighth, so we should've even had a good result there, but some things just didn't line up for it to happen. But I'm feeling more confident pushing the car to the limit, the team is building confidence, we're finding things and developing parts and pieces that are really working to our advantage. We're really just doing what other teams have done already, so we're still playing a bit of catch-up. But with our smaller team it gives us more pride to see what we're doing with what we have.
One thing that always helps a driver's results is qualifying well. Qualifying has never been the highlight of my life, and I don't particularly know why that is. But my strength as a driver has usually been consistency, getting into a rhythm and performing lap after lap, which is why my race pace and performances are generally pretty good. But I've never been somebody who was able to go out and thrash a car or go-kart or anything and get an extra two- or three-tenths out of it. Lately though our performance in qualifying has stepped up, so we're seeing an uptick there, as well. This is something we need to continue to do because, as we saw at Mid-Ohio, if you start upfront it's much easier to have a clean run and a much more straightforward race.
We're learning; look at Iowa, where we were so strong. The car was so good, but it was too easy flat-out on the throttle around the place during qualifying, meaning we ran too much downforce, and now we know that. That's the stuff the bigger teams know because when you have three cars from one team running around in practice, you can try a lot more different setups and learn those things in practice. But when you're a one-car team like we are, we can't. We have to stick to a pretty strict run plan to get through things that absolutely must be done. Regardless of where we go now, though, I think one of the most important and satisfying things is that no one is overlooking us anymore, and they used to. That's a great testament to where we are.
Similarly, for the upcoming Sonoma race I'm wearing a helmet designed by an Alex's Lemonade Stand child, a young man named Daniel who is a cancer survivor and who is a hero to the rest of us. He submitted the winning design through an online contest decided by fan voting, and we have the helmet painted up and will auction it off afterward, with the proceeds going to the Graham Rahal Foundation and Alex's Lemonade Stand. All I can say is, anyone who wants it is going to have to bid high because it's a really cool helmet and I'm definitely going to be after it for my own collection!