INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rahal Letterman Lanigan jump-started its season with a strong opening weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that has given the organization some hope for the looming Indianapolis 500.
Graham Rahal badly needed the boost.
Because if performance doesn't improve soon within the organization, Rahal isn't sure he wants to continue driving for his father. The 34-year-old son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal is in a contract year and said Tuesday he'd maybe retire if a competitive seat isn't in his future.
“I enjoy it, there's no doubt. I don't enjoy not being competitive,” Rahal said. "Everybody thinks that I'm being dramatic, but that's not true. I put my shoe on this morning and bending over, my right leg, the sciatic (nerve) in my right leg, it freaking hurts. My point is, I still have the fire, but there's a lot of other factors that go into this.
“Do I see myself leaving at the end of the year? My deal is up. Do I see myself retiring? No, I don't. But I also am not going to sit here and not run up front when I know I can run with those guys.”
RLL over the past several seasons has made significant upgrades in personnel and a new state-of-the-art shop in nearby Zionsville. The team has expanded to three full-time cars and added Katherine Legge for the Indy 500; Legge is the only woman entered in the May 28 race.
Despite high expectations for this year, it took five races for RLL to show its competitiveness. Before Saturday's race on the road course through Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the team had only a pair of sixth-place finishes from Rahal and Christian Lundgaard to show for its efforts.
But last week, Lundgaard won the pole for the race, while Jack Harvey qualified fourth and Rahal qualified eighth. The team wasn't able to translate the strong qualifying runs into podium finishes; Lundgaard finished fourth, Rahal was 10th and Harvey faded to 20th.
Even so, it was the morale booster the team needed headed into “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” RLL won the race with Takuma Sato in 2020.
RLL will have to wait at least a day to see if it carried momentum into the Indy 500; all on-track activity on Tuesday, opening day, was washed out. The track opens again Wednesday morning for a refresher course for R.C. Enerson, the 34th entrant in the field and only driver yet to get on track this year, followed by a full-field practice session.
For Rahal, he's counting on the organization to turn a corner. Now in his 17th season, Rahal has six career victories but none since back-to-back wins in Detroit in 2017.
He currently is 15th in the standings, with Saturday's 10th-place finish his second top-10 through five races.
“I just don't want to sit here and keep running around in 20th,” he said. “It's not a selfish thing. It's actually the opposite because for me, eventually you've got to look internally. I look at my piece of the puzzle — it's not really clicking here. Do I need to step away and bring a different driver in?”
Rahal noted that although his contract is up at the end of the year — he does all contract negotiations with team co-owner Mike Lanigan and not his father — that all of his sponsors are in long-term contracts tied to the driver.
“So where am I gonna go?” he wondered, before adding that “everything is on the table. I've literally made no decision. Even going somewhere else, I've made no decision.”
Rahal said talks with Lanigan on a new contract have not started yet but that he'd made clear he wants to know that the organization is headed in the right direction.
“We need to get more competitive. I want to see signs that things are turning around,” Rahal said. “Over the last couple years, we had some individuals that prohibited us from advancing. Those people are now gone. Now it's time for us to be the aggressor.”