Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is a single car team. They utilize the Honda aero kit, which is evidently well below the Chevrolet package being used by the powerhouse teams of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. The guy in the driver’s seat just recently earned his second career win in 127 starts.
This is not a dynasty here. What it is though, is an incredibly impressive story about a team that refuses to give up, even when the outcome looks bleak.
What if I told you that driver X was starting 17th in Saturday night’s race at Iowa Speedway. In seven prior starts at Iowa, driver X had only one top-five finish, a fifth place in 2013. Now imagine this – they have a right rear tire going down and have to pit during green flag conditions. The track is 7/8 of a mile in length, which means you’re probably looking at going down two laps to the leader. On top of that, driver X also has a gearbox malfunction, and can’t get the car into low gear. The car stalls, and more precious time is lost on the track.
Now, what if I told you that driver X still managed to come back and finish in fourth place? Preposterous, right? Well, not this team, not this year.
What is the motivation for Graham Rahal and his team this year? Wouldn’t you be motivated if you were getting laughed at and ridiculed for your poor performance at work? Yes, we all would. It’s motivation to be better, determination to flip the script, and it fuels a desire to overcome the odds and get to the top. That’s exactly what has been going on at RLL this season.
Sure, there have been some key personnel changes made that have made a difference. Beyond that though, you can tell that the team is operating differently, and you can see Graham’s improvement on the track. “A day when the car wouldn’t shift and we were down and out, but we were able to fight back shows what this team is made of. Nights like (Iowa) are what build character, and what builds champions.”
What does it take to become a champion? It’s a recipe that some have figured out, and some simply haven’t. Obviously the last two seasons have been brutal for Rahal and his crew, finishing 19th and 18th in the championship standings. What a turnaround it has been though. Not just the 13 positions he advanced in this most recent race, but the entire season as a whole. After the incredible comeback at Iowa, Graham now sits in second place in the championship. He trails Juan Montoya by 42 points heading into the final three races.
Whether you believe this team has managed a complete 180 or not, the proof is in the numbers. Looking at the average finish for every driver in the series, Rahal (7.5) has the second best. When it comes to podium finishes, nobody has more than Rahal (5) does this season. I remind you, this is a single-car team making these things happen. They have been on a roll the past three races, finishing first, third, and fourth. Looking ahead at the final three races though, Graham’s performance at the upcoming tracks must improve if he wants to win a championship this year.
In seven starts at Mid-Ohio, the hometown kid has never finished on the podium. He did finish a career-best fifth last year, but he still has an average finish of 15th on the road course. The two races at Pocono have been dreadful. He finished 18th in 2013, and 19th after a crash in last year’s race. Sonoma hasn’t been much better. In seven races there, Graham has never finished on the podium, and has only one top-five finish.
In an apples-to-oranges comparison, Montoya has only raced once at each track (last season). He finished 11th at Mid-Ohio, won the race from pole position at Pocono, and finished fifth at Sonoma.
Needless to say, this team is going to have to really perform at an incredible level if they plan on taking the championship from Montoya. If they race like they did at Iowa and how they have virtually all season long, they can certainly get there.
Regardless of what happens, it’s certain that this team is going to fight like hell all the way down to the final lap in Sonoma.