LONG BEACH, Calif – If you look at the timing charts, it would be a huge clue as to why Graham Rahal isn’t overly confident heading into Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network) despite starting in the sixth position. See, Rahal was fourth fastest in the morning session on Friday and second on Saturday. But, in the afternoon practice session on Friday, he was P7.
The reason for the slight drop off?
Graham Rahal during the INDYCAR Acura GP of Long Beach
Rahal, says his car is great in the cooler conditions of the morning but he’s struggling with his No. 15 Honda when the heat starts to build not only in the air but on the 1.968-mile street surface too.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve come a long way,” said Rahal. “Definitely, Barber was a huge step for us. But all year I’ve kind of felt like we were close. Even in St. Pete we didn’t make it, but we were competitive or getting closer, and now we’ve taken another little step here.
“But today is the same as yesterday. We struggle in the heat a little bit. I think our competitiveness kind of goes down a little bit in the heat, so we’ve got to look at that overnight, figure that out. But yeah, it was good. We kind of snuck in there. It was an interesting couple of groups for us. But it’s good to be up at the sharp end with these boys, and we know last year obviously made a little mistake on the start but went to the back and managed to legit drive all the way to fifth place, so I know we can be competitive here on race day, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Rahal, said that because of his struggles with his car when the temperatures were warmer, they didn’t play the games to save Firestone Reds for Q3. He didn’t think they were good enough to do so.
“No, we didn’t have the pace,” said Rahal. “To be quite frank, we were lucky to get to the Fast Six. I put in a good lap in Q2. I mean, we still weren’t that quick, but like we were fourth or fifth and snuck through. But you know, honestly, like from Q1 I was like, uh-oh, it does not feel as good. The rear of our car over the curbing is really not very good.
“Like I said before, like in the cooler conditions in the morning and stuff, you can kind of get away with it, but when the track heats up it’s a bit of a struggle. Actually my tires were decently fresh to go to Q3, and the second set, we were on a good lap, not an Alex or Scott lap, but I think we were like maybe going to be an eight or a nine, and in Turn 9 I just went super deep and let it roll and just spun the inside tire like crazy and lost all momentum and that was it.”
If Rahal’s guys can figure it out overnight, then his car can compete for a win on Sunday. He has two straight top five finishes at Long Beach including a fifth place effort last year.