LEEDS, Ala – The first dual top 10 finish of the 2018 IndyCar season for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing occurred this very weekend at the Barber Motorsports Park. See, it’s no secret, the best tracks for this organization have come on natural road courses. Two weeks ago in COTA, another natural road course, Graham Rahal brought his No. 15 Honda home fourth while his teammate Takuma Sato finished seventh in his No. 30 Honda.
That gives them high hopes for this weekend’s race at Barber.
They’re making the most of it too. Both RLL drivers swept the front row for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (4 p.m. ET/NBCSN/IndyCar Radio Network).
Rahal, has two runner-up’s (2015, 2016) in his career on the scenic Alabama facility to go along with a seventh place effort last year. Sato, finished ninth in 2017 and eighth in 2018.
Now, they’re no longer sleepers to watch.
Sato, won the race at Portland in Sept. of last year and was eighth, 13th and fifth respectively in practice. He starts in his No. 30 Honda.
“This is a dream result. We don’t really care which (teammate) is first; obviously, I do care that I am in front of Graham (Rahal, teammate), but this team is working so hard and sometimes a lucky break comes, but today we did everything together,” said Sato after earning his eighth career pole. “This is a team effort. I’m really happy for both. Black (Firestone primary) tires and red (Firestone alternate) tires had a similar performance yesterday, but today, clearly the red tire was the faster one. I actually did try the black tire in the Firestone Fast Six to try and go again faster, but obviously, the red tire was much faster and in the end I was very happy with my lap.”
Rahal, is always a threat on natural road courses. He hasn’t had the greatest of weekends until qualifying, but you can’t count him out either.
“Well, I think overall, we got a little bit better everywhere,” said the Ohio native. “The one sector (where we were losing time yesterday) might still be a little bit not perfect, I would say, maybe a little thorn in our side. But typically, I think the guys did a tremendous job today. This morning, our time and our finishing position, which ended up in the gravel, is not indicative of our pace and we felt that. Did we feel we had the front row locked out? Probably not. But the really good sign of this, I think, is that our cars are clearly pretty consistent with tire wear from first run to second run on those reds (Firestone alternate tires). I’m excited. I think we’re in a good position as we go forward. I think we’ve had good races here in the past, but we’ve never started anywhere near here. Hopefully, tomorrow can be a pretty straightforward, really strong day for us.”
The team is now trying to turn the corner in general.
See, they were in rebuild move when Rahal joined them in 2013. The team scaled back to just one full time entry for him and by 2015, they were back near the top. Rahal, won that season and took a big leap forward.
Unfortunately, after a slight bump up in 2016, they kind of stalled out for 2017. They’ve always said that they wouldn’t add a second car just to add one. They didn’t want to take any resources away from their primary car in Rahal.
But, with how technical and difficult it is to land a setup right in Indy Car these days, it’s hard to do with just one entry. With all the resources in place, it was time to add a second car again for 2018. Plus, with a new car, they needed even more notes.
After a year to figure each other out in 2018, it’s time for growth in 2019. They feel they can close the gap between the Penske and Ganassi’s. They feel like they can challenge Andretti for supremacy up front.
Well, it’s working so far. Sunday, has the potential to prove it even further.