Tales From Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Tales From Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Graham Rahal's Autoweek Blog

The Indianapolis 500 is just a few days away now, and the Midas/Big O Tires Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team is quietly confident that we can score a solid result.

A good finish at Indy would be a great way to forget about the Izod IndyCar Series previous race, on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. That one was a tough event for us as a team. We were pretty quick all weekend, we had a great car setup. We were a bit too conservative in qualifying; we had too much downforce and that ultimately kind of bit us. So we started pretty far back, and we were working our way forward during the race. We made some strategy calls that worked perfectly, and we put ourselves in a great position to win. Unfortunately on one of the restarts, a couple guys got into it and I had to bail out to avoid them, so that sent us from probably being in a position to challenge for the win to back in last place, and we had to rebuild from there.

I was really pushing hard, I was driving at 11/10ths and unfortunately I just got too deep into turn one and locked up the inside front … and tagged the tires. So at the end of the day it was just a tough weekend, one we want to forget and move on from. We were quick but a series of mistakes on my part and on the team side -- just running a little too much downforce in qualifying really, really hurt us; with the long straightaway there, there's a lot of time to be gained on it. And unfortunately we didn't take advantage of that so we were basically losing a whole second to others just on the straight. And while we gained back some of that speed in the corners it wasn't enough to make up for it.

But hey, now it's time for the big one! Indy so far has been the same as it always is: a difficult place with unique challenges. We've had to make a lot of big changes to the car to make it better and I think at this point we've done that. We've gotten to a place where the car certainly feels a little bit better; we're in the field now and we've been working now on our race setup. So we're feeling good about where we're at; starting 26th is not ideal but it's not a bad place to be. In 2011 I came from 29th to finish third, so anything is possible at the Speedway. I think a lot of guys ran a lot of laps earlier in the week before Pole Day when it was colder, and that probably gave them a bit of a false read on where everyone stood. So we're pretty happy with where we are right now going into the race.

Consistency is always tough here. We don't necessarily look at the practice speeds that much; you've got to focus on what you're doing, not what others are doing, and where you stand compared to people who are on a similar program. Now, that's something that's also difficult to figure out because people are always doing different things: Some guys are doing qualifying simulations, some guys are doing runs with race setups, so it's tough to figure out exactly where everybody stands. But like I said, I feel strongly that we're in a good position, and heading into the race we're going to have a great opportunity ahead of us. That's all I can worry about at this point.

It's tough here because Indy is the ultimate proving ground. Every little thing can make a difference. The speeds are so high that things can totally swing the way your car is handling with the wind or temperatures or conditions in general. I think that Indy is a great challenge because while people might look at it and say, "all four corners are the same," in reality it's never the same.

The wind direction totally changes: the way the wind comes through the grandstands or doesn't; the way it howls down the frontstraight or it doesn't. With the grandstand placement, it seems like wind direction is different almost every single day. So that's what's so challenging. You can guess at these things all you want but it's pretty difficult to figure it out on a day-to-day basis. Of course, weather also plays a huge role. A 10- or 15-degree cooler track temperature means your car feels a lot better. So yes, Indy is very demanding and is a tricky, tricky place.

You figure it all out by doing laps. You go out there and see what it gives you. I don't think anyone jumps in every morning and is totally 100-percent flat-out on their first lap. It always takes a little bit of getting used to, and I think that every day you've got to feel it out. Everybody does that, I don't care who you are. Remember, Indy is a place that while it's so great, it can bite you so easily. So you certainly have to be smart about what you're doing because one major setback can ruin your month. The place just wears you out. But we're definitely ready for it come Sunday.

One thing I know all the fans followed last weekend was the situation with my Indy teammate, Michel Jourdain Jr., who ended up not making the field. I feel really bad for him, we all do. He put a lot of effort into this and we did too as a team. I know the team gave its all, there was just something that prevented us from getting the speed and the handling out of his car.

It was a weird situation: After driving my car all week and then jumping in his, it just didn't feel right. There was absolutely nothing similar about his car and my car; even though the setup was identical, the way the car felt couldn't have been more different, and that's what was concerning.

Michel is a great guy and a great competitor, and I'm sure he'll be back and I hope he'll be back with us next year. Now we just have to go back and do our research to figure out what was going on there.

First, though, me and my guys are ready for Sunday. I'll let you know how it all went down in my next Autoweek blog!