It all started with a test at Sebring and ended with two Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing cars in the top 10 at the recent Honda Indy Toronto.
With Jack Harvey mired deep in the pack with pit stop issues, Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard brought their respective cars home in fourth and eighth place for the team’s first top-five finish in the 2022 IndyCar Series season.
The team had started off their Toronto weekend strong after a recent test at the bump-laden Sebring circuit in Florida gave the team a new direction on their street circuit setups. Rahal said Friday that the team even dusted off some old dampers from 2008 to try and find a new direction to go setup-wise.
During the 85-lap race around the 1.786-mile street circuit, Rahal used that new setup information to go from 14th to finish fourth while Lundgaard went from 10th to eighth.
Rahal was one of five drivers who started on the primary black sidewall compound of tires that Firestone offers, which gives less grip than the red sidewall alternate compound tires but has more durability. This allowed Rahal to run longer at the beginning of the race, culminating in the No. 15 Honda running in the lead for six laps.
After a late race restart, Rahal made the pass for fourth place on St. Petersburg and Mid-Ohio winner Scott McLaughlin in a move that started the New Zealander’s slide down to ninth place by race’s end.
“He left the door open and he got a big wiggle onto the front straight and I mean, I had to, man, you’ve got to try it when the door’s open, you’ve got to go,” Rahal said of that move on McLaughlin to TobyChristie.com. “And so I went and it worked out, I think. And you know, I love Scotty tremendously, so I hope he doesn’t think my slide at the apex was dirty or anything like that.
“It did affect his race a bit there, but look, I got, you know, [the] position I’m in the championship. I haven’t won in five years, like, I’m going, man. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m going.”
The Ohio native then held off IndyCar Series points leader Marcus Ericsson and defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou as the laps counted down for his first top-five finish since Laguna Seca in 2021.
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Nearly five seconds behind Rahal was Lundgaard in eighth place, his best finish of the 2022 IndyCar season so far. Lundgaard qualified best of the RLLR cars and was the only driver in the team that had never raced in any capacity at Toronto.
Rahal helped impart his wisdom to Lundgaard during the weekend’s track walk before any practice sessions took place, helping the former Formula 2 competitor understand the finer points of the 11-turn circuit. Lundgaard took that guidance to heart.
“I think that’s what Christian’s very good at is listening, and then applying it,” Rahal said. “You know, a lot of guys can listen, but they, they’re not very good at taking what you give them and applying it. I think Christian’s very good at watching tape, watching my tape, watching others tape, listening to the advice that I give about the race and stuff like that, and then be able to go out and put that foot forward and perform. So, yeah, he’s done a great job. I mean, there’s no doubt about that and he’s maximized, he races very well. So I’m sure that’ll keep going.”
Toronto marked the latest step in a turnaround for the Brownsburg-based organization. After expanding to three cars for the 2023 IndyCar season, the team went through some growing pains and performance suffered as a result.
The low point was Detroit, where Rahal crashed early in the race and Lundgaard finished in 14th, just ahead of Harvey. However, all three cars finished in the top half of the field in the next race at Road America (Rahal eighth, Lundgaard 10th and Harvey 13th). Mid-Ohio did not treat the team the best, but Toronto has given the organization renewed hope.
“Look, when you’re down in the dumps like we have been, when you get abused like we have been all over social media and everything else, even in the paddock, everybody’s looking at us going, ‘What the hell is going on with you guys?’ Everybody expects more of us and we expect more of ourselves,” Rahal said.
“For these guys to, to keep their chins up and to just see the team smile, this weekend was worth the price for me. The result’s gonna be even better. There’s gonna be some really happy people back home and tonight as we load up here. So I’m just super proud of them. It’s got a lot of heart in this program that’s for sure. And you know, hopefully this will be a kickstart to great things that come.”