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IndyCar

Rahal Hopes to Build on 2016 to Contend for Championship

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After showing speed last year, Graham Rahal is set on putting himself in championship contention this season.

The lack of changes for the series help as Rahal and team will be able to enter the year on the same foot, just looking to enhance the package they’ve already built. The process has already begun as the team brought in Tom German to help on an engineering front. While German worked with Alexander Rossi last season, he spent a bunch of years prior with Team Penske.

“We really messed up on some aerodynamic testing that we did before,” he said. “We only did one day of wind tunnel testing, and it completely fooled us, and that’s what happened to us at Indy. We just reacted to this one day, and the data points weren’t even correct, and it literally ruined our entire month.”

On the flip side, though, the lack of changes have the drivers pondering what is possible this season, as Honda struggled last year compared to their counterpart in Chevrolet.

“Is it a little bit tough kind of going into a season knowing, okay, we’re going to have the same uphill battle we’ve had for the last couple years? Yes. But again, I actually believe that Honda on the engine side is pretty strong, and I think that that will continue to develop,” Rahal said. “A couple new hires that they’ve had starting middle of last year really helped the performance of the engine, I think, the second half of the year, just getting comfortable pushing it a little bit more, and I think that will continue to happen.”

Following a fourth place points standing finish in 2015, Graham Rahal entered the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series boosting confidence in the potential of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team. In the end, the results didn’t match the thoughts as Rahal found himself a spot further back in the year-end standings, finishing fifth.

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably, and we just did our season reviews about a month ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better,” he said.

Rahal stated the lack of results came from things not going their way in 2016 as much as they did in 2015, where lucky breaks are concerned. If not for the issues they ran into, he feels they could’ve been able to finish second in the standings to Simon Pagenaud.

“We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship, but you know, if I look throughout the entire season, it starts right off with St. Pete running in the top 5, getting punted. Everybody knows that whole image,” he said. “So you know, you get — running from fifth, solidly if fifth, great race car that day, there’s no doubt we would have stayed there if not improved, and you finish 13th or whatever. So right there is a missed opportunity.”

While the results weren’t there, Rahal was able to be more consistent in qualifying, including a personal highlight of making the Firestone Fast Six for each of the road courses, except Watkins Glen where he was given a penalty.

“Our qualifying performance was pretty solid everywhere compared to 2015 where our qualifying was certainly weak,” he said. “But 2016, we were in the ballpark a lot. We were in the Fast Six a lot.”

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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.