By Josh Farmer, Contributing Journalist
MADISON, Illinois — The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season has fallen short of Graham Rahal’s expectations.
The driver of the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing lies eighth in the standings heading into tomorrow evening’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park. He is also yet to win so far this season with his best finish being second place at the season opener at St. Petersburg.
The 29-year-old from New Albany, Ohio, admitted that while the team has been well prepared week in and week out, he has left a bit on the table this season.
“I think that we’ve been pretty average all year in a lot of categories,” he said. “So I definitely want to see some improvement as we go into this off-season, give us something to be excited about, give us a little bit of something to be motivated going through the winter months.
“Our guys have worked awfully hard this year. I’ve seen some good improvement out of the team on the pit stops. Those guys have done a great job on the averages throughout the year, so I’m proud of them for that, but clearly I’ve made some mistakes this year.”
One of those mistakes came at last weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at the Pocono Raceway when he rear-ended Spencer Pigot at the start. Rahal lost a few laps following the incident, but managed to run on pace with the leaders. Having that pace, he felt that he could have challenged for positions.
“If you look at our race pace compared to Rossi and Power, we were certainly better than Power on race pace,” Rahal said. “As compared to positions four on down, we unlapped ourselves and in some cases, unlapped ourselves to those people two or three times. Areas like that, maybe we stumbled across some stuff for the race last week.
He also noted that the team has struggled to find a good setup this year. He pointed to the round at Mid-Ohio, a track that he won at in 2015, as one of his tough spots.
“Mid-Ohio, for instance, the car in the race was pretty evil loose,” he said. “Those are areas like we shouldn’t stumble, and we hadn’t been — we just weren’t great. You know, as we look at development, we’re very fortunate with the partners that we have. Everybody is coming back, everybody is excited. So we know what we’ve got going forward, and gives us some time this off-season to develop further and put ourselves in a better position going forward.”
Rahal, who has finished in the top-five in the standings two out of the last three years, noted that the team has struggled on finding a setup that can work well for him.
With three racing remaining in the season (Gateway, Portland and Sonoma), Rahal is focused on finishing the season strong. Heading into tomorrow night’s 248-lap event, he feels that the projected warm temperatures combined with the lower downforce universal aero kit are going to make navigating the 1.25-mile oval a challenge.
“It’ll make it slick for sure, but the nighttime falls and the track cools down and everything will be just fine,” said Rahal, who will start seventh after qualifying rained out.
“It’s the same for everybody. I don’t look into it too much. I just take every day as it comes to us.
“Today and what we get out of today is going to be a lot different than what we get out of tomorrow. This new car with the lack of aero, the downforce comparatively, it’s going to throw a whole bunch of surprises at us in its own right.”