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2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Year in Review: Graham Rahal

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Despite a rocky season with eight finishes outside of the top-10, Graham Rahal was able to put enough good results together to finish fifth in points.

 

Points Finish: 5th

Car No.: 15

Driver Name: Grahal Rahal

Team Name: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Total Races: 16

Victories: 1 – Texas Motor Speedway

Podiums: 4

Top-Fives: 8

Top-10s: 8

Average Start: 12.8

Average Finish: 8.9

DNFs: 1

 

 

After a breakout campaign which allowed Graham Rahal to prove himself last year, there were high hopes for an even stronger season in 2016.

Rahal started off the season on a rocky note, though, posting a 16th place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg after being involved in a multi-car crash in turn four. He then flipped the results around a week later as he finished fifth at Phoenix International Raceway.  The back and forth flip flop continued through the season as he finished 15th at Long Beach, followed by a runner-up at Barber Motorsports Park. It looked as if he was going to win at Barber, however late race trail of events changed that.

Running faster lap times, he caught Simon Pagenaud with eight laps to go. He made a move to the inside at the bottom of the backstretch. Pagenaud blocked, resulting in contact between the pair that sent Pagenaud off the track into the gravel.

“I had a heck of a run. He blocked me, a really solid block, and the worst part wasn’t that he didn’t leave the room, it was that he was diagonal to the apex. I mean, just turned in way earlier than you’d normally turn in,” Rahal explained. “You can watch the overhead camera; it’s pretty easy to see. So I’m glad there was a no-call because for sure it’s a racing incident, but you would never turn in where he turned in. He was purposely trying to cut me off there.”

Finally in the lead, Rahal looked to be headed to victory, but got caught behind the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth with three laps to go. Hawksworth slowed to move out of the leaders way, catching Rahal off-guard. Rahal tried to make the quick move to the outside of Hawksworth, but caught the back of him, ripping off his right front wing. Pagenaud made up the lost ground and easily passed Rahal, seizing the lead to score the victory.

He was able to follow it up with a fourth in the Indianapolis Grand Prix despite starting tail of the field due to a post-qualifying infraction, only to finish 14th in the Indianapolis 500. Belle Isle also became a tale of two worlds as he finished fourth in race one, followed by an 11th in race two due to a late-race pit stop. The yo-yo effect carried through the summer for Rahal as in the five races which followed, he posted a pair of top-fives to go with three finishes outside of the top-10.

Despite enduring his fair share of bad luck this year, he didn’t go winless as he led 51 laps en route to winning at Texas Motor Speedway. Rahal battled back and forth with James Hinchcliffe through the final laps, passing him for the final time in turn three on the last lap to win by 0.0080 of a second, the fifth-closest finish in series history and tightest finish in the track’s 20-year history.

Unfortunately, the momentum didn’t carry to Watkins Glen as contact with Charlie Kimball resulted in Rahal crashing into the wall and finishing 21st. He’d complete the season a good note, though, posting a runner-up in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Highlight of 2016 – Texas Motor Speedway and winning by 0.0080 of a second over James Hinchcliffe

Downfall of 2016 – The rocky consistency was resulted in a lower finish in points than some predicted for Rahal this year.

Road/Street Course Analysis – The results don’t say much with six top-fives in 11 races, but he showed he could race with the best as evident by a runner-up at Sonoma and his back and forth battle with Pagenaud at Barber Motorsports Park.

Oval Analysis – While he picked up the win at Texas Motor Speedway, there was only one other top-five in the other four oval races in 2016.

Notes for 2017 – If Rahal and team can tidy up some of the inconsistencies they had in 2016, whether fault of our or performance package with Honda, they could find themselves in championship contention.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.