2017 Team Report Card: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Despite fielding a single car in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has continued to battle for top honors in the Honda camp for the past three seasons.
While results were harder to come by in 2017, Graham Rahal was still able to hold the fort effectively in the family-run business, and a with a new year ahead help with carrying the load is on the way. Following Andretti Autosport’s decision to go with an all-American, four-car lineup, the engine provider has provided reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato to the Rahal squad.
The aggressive Japanese pilot drove for the Ohio-based operation in 2012, coming within a lap of winning at the Brickyard when a failed attempt to pass Dario Franchitti put him into the turn one wall. With two hard chargers in the fold, it will be curious to see how relations between the new teammates gel or dissolve as the 2018 season opens.
Before we look ahead, however, let’s look back at another solid effort for the Steak N’ Shake drive-thru crew this past campaign.
Graham Rahal (6th in driver points): The balance of the current schedule towards road courses, as opposed to ovals, has greatly benefited the second-generation chauffeur. Despite earning two of six career victories on high-speed designs, the consistency on the twisty bits has aided him significantly, particularly in this year’s Duel in Detroit. Although previous history had shown a trend not favoring first leg winners, the popular American put a temporary hold on that reality by kicking the competition in the teeth for a second consecutive outing, becoming the first IndyCar driver to sweep both days of action on The Raceway at Belle Isle.
From that point on, Rahal was a constant presence in the top half of the running order, placing ninth or better in each of the remaining rounds, excluding a finish of 12th in IndyCar’s return to Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis. The only thing that kept him from holding his retaining his role in the top five in the championship was the overpowering presence of Team Penske’s quartet of stars and the regular stalking form of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. Still, taking best of the rest behind those stalwarts is far from a lost cause in the current era of North American open-wheel racing.
TEAM PERFORMANCE: The No. 15 team could have folded the tent following an ugly opening string of four races, which netted their three worst outings of the year. However, the group was able to dust itself off from yet another sluggish first symphony to compose another near-chart topper for the third year in a row. After having been mired in also-ran status in previous editions of the Indianapolis 500, RLLR managed 230 mph qualifying efforts from both Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia putting both challengers near the front of the starting order. Even with finishing 12th, the forgotten Spaniard (due in part to the presence of Formula One regular Fernando Alonso) suddenly became a potential Borg-Warner Trophy winner, only to be eliminated in a late-race accident while fighting for fourth-place with James Davison.
Even though the organization is still long removed from its greatest Brickyard successes with Buddy Rice winning the race in 2004 and placing two cars in the top four the following year, the Buckeye State runners continue to hold serve admirably against the sport’s old guard and should keep up the battle entering a new season.
The question for 2018 centers on, how the status of the team will be bolstered or harmed by the expansion to two full-time efforts.
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