The wheels fell off in 2021 - Can Rahal end a 30-year wait? - The Race

The wheels fell off in 2021 – Can Rahal end a 30-year wait?

May 25 2022
By Jack Benyon

In last year’s Indianapolis 500, while his rivals raced on, Graham Rahal sunk to his knees in the middle of the track. It didn’t matter that cars were circling, he was overcome with emotion and looking to the sky for explanation.

Rahal had been in contention for the Indy 500 victory not long before one of the best pit crews in IndyCar let him down.

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan team failed to attach his rear left wheel correctly and it came off as he rejoined the track, narrowly missing the leading group he was supposed to tag on to the back of.

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If his analysis is correct, he was the first car requiring only one more pitstop as opposed to two, and while a caution could have negated that advantage later on, on paper it was a huge chance for Rahal to win his first Indy 500.

He watched the tape of last year’s crash for the first time last week, and perhaps it’s allowing him to – slowly – move on from what was his best chance at a 500 win.

“I certainly tried to turn away from it as quickly as possible,” Rahal said when asked by The Race if getting back on track at the Brickyard helped banish the demons.

“That one hurt, pretty bad.

“But I’ve always felt that this track and this race kind of picks its winner, and every year is a different chapter in the book. Last year it wasn’t meant to be my chapter, for whatever reason.

“For Helio [Castroneves] to win four was a tremendous story. It was a great thing for the sport, and obviously for him. He’s a great guy, and he’s a deserving champion.

“For me, it’s salty a little bit. But I look back at a lot of the guys that have won this race, Christian [Lundgaard, team-mate] just mentioned the [Alexander] Rossi [2016 win saving fuel] story, and I look back at my dad with [team owner] Jim Trueman and his illness and everything he was going through [in 1986].

“Often the Indy 500 is a Hollywood script that’s kind of coming together in front of our eyes.

“Last year just wasn’t my opportunity.

“We just have to put our heads down and focus on this year.

“Yes, it’s been nice to be back on track.

“Practice was nice for me because the car was quite good in race running and it just brought back a lot of positive thoughts from similarities with my race car last year and where I felt that I was and things like that.

“Obviously we’ve got a couple of days here that are very important before we get to race day, but I do think and I do hope that come race day we’ll be a contender for sure, and if we play our cards right, hopefully we’ll get our shot.”

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Rahal may have only qualified in 21st for this year’s race but that’s only three spots behind where he mounted his assault from in last year’s event, and by his own admission he’s flanked by drivers who should be in contention, like Alexander Rossi, the 2016 winner, for example.

“I think it’s going to be quite challenging from the back of the pack,” added Rahal.

“We’re going to have to work really good on strategy and stuff to find our way forward. The biggest thing is to not make any mistakes and get ourselves further back.

“I think over the last couple years the team has done an excellent job on race day to put good cars under us.”

The Race understands multiple drivers have already approached Rahal to talk about working together to save fuel right from the start of the race.

The problem Rahal has is, he’s unlikely to pull off the same strategy again in 2022 because everyone will have watched the tape from last year to see what he did. So the aces up his sleeve have fallen out for the rest of the players to see.

However, don’t count out Rahal, the driver or team. It won the event in 2020 with Takuma Sato and has had some extremely strong racecars at the 500.

Rahal would certainly be a popular winner, and alongside what it means to win for himself, I’m sure Rahal would like to join his father Bobby as an Indy 500 winner, as Graham is often unfairly asked or told about that when he’s in and around the Speedway.

If it’s a Hollywood script he’s after, here’s one stat that might do it. It’s 30 years since Al Unser Jr first won the Indy 500 to form the first and so far only father/son duo to win the race.

That might just work for the Indy 500 scriptwriters in Hollywood.

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