Rahal's Team Keeps Eyes On Race Pace While Others Tow For Pole Speed
For much of the early days of practice for the 97th Indianapolis 500, Rahal Lanigan Letterman Racing has spent the majority of the time pounding around the 2.5-mile oval simply trying to “mileage out” their Honda engines. All engines that are used in the IZOD IndyCar Series have to reach their mileage limit before they can be swapped out for fresher engines.
Once that requirement was met, Graham Rahal was able to get a new Honda engine in his Dallara to finally get a chance Thursday to see what his car could do in qualifying setup.
“It made it, though, so I’m happy about that,” Rahal said. “When we put the new engine in, we were hoping for a horsepower boost, and it wasn’t much. But on Friday we will have the extra 40-50 horsepower, so it will change the handling. You work on a car at a certain speed all week, and all of a sudden you get an extra 10 miles an hour of straight-line speed, so it is going to handle a bit different. Our qualifying car is pretty comfortable; I feel good about that. We just have to keep working.
“The only thing that has been a bummer for us is we’ve been behind on race setup. We will have to work on moving forward. Tomorrow will all be qualifying stuff, and if we get in the show on Saturday, we will spend all day Sunday working on the race.”
After Thursday’s six-hour practice session, Rahal was pleased because he was able to judge his speed in qualification trim.
“I’m in a pretty good place (mentally) for qualifying,” Rahal said. “I think we were probably one of the few that did a true no-tow-period lap. There was not anybody else on the track at all when we did it. And to do mid-220s all four laps, that’s solid. We were eighth on the timing of no tows, but here if there is someone else on track, you are getting some swirls. We didn’t at all, so I feel really good about that.
“The race car, we have to keep working on it. We made some improvements at the very end. We weren’t in heavy traffic, but we will be back at it on Friday.”
Rahal’s worst start at Indy was 2011, and it also gave him his best finish. He started 29th and went on to finish third. Last year he started 12th and finished 13th while he was driving for team owner Chip Ganassi.
This year he is driving for his father – three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. The early days of practice were a bit frustrating for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, as all three of its drivers were near the bottom of the timing sheets, including James Jakes of England and Michel Jourdain Jr. of Mexico. But the team that is also co-owned by television icon David Letterman and Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan persevered so practice Thursday was a productive one for all three drivers.
“Race Day is the day that counts,” Bobby Rahal said. “If you don’t have a shot at the pole, you talk about how good you are going to be in the race.
“In the no-tow report, we were good, and that is the real deal. It tells you really where people are and not where everybody is towing you around. Today we made some improvements – a lot of improvements. I think Graham was pretty happy with the qual sim. We need to find a little more speed. On Friday, we will get the boost, but the Chevrolets are strong right now. They are strong, no question. But we made improvements on the engine, and Honda has done some things that work well for us and get the car better and better.”
Bobby Rahal wants to run some more in race setup and wants to make the car better for all three drivers in traffic.
“We are starting in a much better place than we were the last couple of days,” Bobby Rahal said. “You still want to see what you can do and try to make the car better. Winding the boost up will affect the overall speed, but you have to have a car that will use that. Hopefully the weather will cooperate like it did today, and we will give it our best shot. The extra boost will be sizeable.
“But the early part of the week we had to mileage out our engine, and we were able to do that without any issues. We weren’t the only ones out there mileaging them out. You just chunk through the miles and on to the next one.”
Rahal admitted it’s difficult without the extra week of practice because more focus is put on setting the car up for the race than for speed.
“If the weather doesn’t cooperate, and it has this year so far, it really compresses everything,” Bobby Rahal said. “I don’t know if I like it better this way or not. It’s less expensive, but if you have bad weather for three of four days the first week, it puts everybody under a lot more pressure.”
As most teams have been working on Race Day setup for the 97th Indianapolis 500 since the track opened for practice last Saturday. it was finally time for teams to attempt to see how fast their cars would go in qualifying trim. With additional boost given to each team for “Fast Friday” and this weekend’s qualifications, the extra 40-50 horsepower should see speeds climb. That is when the real work for qualifications will begin.
As with the 2012 race, the boost level will be increased from 130 kPa to 140 kPa for "Fast Friday" and Pole Day qualifications May 18 and Bump Day qualifications on May 19.
The change in pressure adds about a 40-horsepower boost to the engines produced by Chevrolet (twin-turbocharged Chevy IndyCar V6) and Honda (single turbo-charged Honda HI13R). The boost level for Race Day will return to 130 kPa for final practice on Coors Light Carb Day on Friday, May 24 and the 500 Mile Race on Sunday, May 26.
Many teams started Thursday’s session still working on race setups, including the fastest driver of the day, Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz of Colombia. He ran 70 laps with a fast lap of 225.163 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet. His fast lap was the 60th lap of the day and was the fastest lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway so far this week.
“The fastest lap was a tow, an unbelievable tow,” Munoz said. “Yesterday, I was thanking Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) and all the other drivers for the tow, and today I am thanking him (E.J. Viso) and Ryan (Hunter-Reay). But yeah, this last run I felt really comfortable each time I ran behind people in racing conditions. Each time I felt more comfortable. We are improving the car from the beginning until now, and I think right now we are really strong. We have a real strong car every time we test, and we can go back and make sure we have a pretty competitive car. But tomorrow and Saturday is another thing entirely. We will have to prepare for qualifying.”
An Andretti Autosport driver has been the fastest of the day in four of the six days of practice so far at Indy. Munoz is the first driver to be the fastest on more than one day. He was also the quickest Sunday.
“I’m excited to get that extra horsepower on Friday,” Munoz said. “We’ll get more speed again. I’m comfortable and feel we have a secure car. I will tell you tomorrow after I have that first run.”
Andretti Autosport has proven to have a great setup in race trim, and the drivers also are confident they will be back at the top in qualifying setup.
“I believe every race car has fundamentals and at Andretti mechanical grip is a fundamental,” said driver E.J. Viso, who was sixth quick on Thursday at 224.221 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet. “Then, all you have to do is trim the car and smoothly adjust it for qualifying. We will find that grip when we need it with very little downforce.
“Every single team I have been with before I have definitely learned plenty. I am a better driver today because of those tough years I’ve had at the beginning of IndyCar. Being with Andretti, I’m on a very competitive team. With previous teams, it’s a very tough sport with everything related to money and sponsors and performance. Previous teams didn’t have the assets this team has, and right now I’m trying to use them as much as I can. Before I tried to give my 100 percent, which is why I crashed a lot, but there were people that didn’t know what I was driving in many races. I never threw my team under the bus.
“Right now I’m with the right atmosphere to come and play hard.”
And that is the same thing Graham Rahal is hoping to do when he returns to the track on Fast Friday as he hopes to find some more speed out of his Dallara/Honda.