Credit Boyd Adams Photos
After the first day of practice for the Grand Prix of Houston, the time sheet looked quite odd for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. In his first race with the team, Italian road and street course ace Luca Filippi was 4th in combined practice times while Graham Rahal found himself in 14th. A 14th for Rahal is not terrible, but it begs the question…what’s up over there?
Rahal has struggled since joining his fathers team. For 2013 Rahal recorded only 5 top 10 finishes, led only 6 laps, and finished 18th in points. Rahal has not recorded a pole since 2009 and hasn’t won a race, his only win so far, since 2008 despite spending 2 years with Chip Ganassi Racing’s satellite team. In his whole career he has only led 122 laps going back to 2007 when he raced his first season in Champ Car.
The #15 seat itself was less than successful prior to Rahal’s arrival as well. Despite flashes of speed and almost winning the 2012 Indianapolis 500, Takuma Sato only recorded 5 top 10 finishes in his only season with RLLR. However, Sato did lead 76 laps, 31 coming at the 500.
RLLR added a second full-time team for the 2013 season, the #16, with James Jakes. Jakes surprised many with a hand-full of strong runs, especially at Belle Isle, recording 3 top 10 finishes despite the lack of speed RLLR had shown. On the practice sheets, the little known Jakes often outpaced Graham.
The #16 has ran in 4 races this year prior to Filippi’s arrival with Oriol Servia. Servia is known as being a very fast and consistent driver. However, Servia only recorded 1 top 10 in those 4 starts and an 11th at the Indy 500. Servia finished ahead of Graham in all but one race, Barber, where Rahal finished 17th and Servia 20th. Despite not having great results, Servia has been stronger in his races than Rahal.
The prior results could’ve been attributed to not having a large budget, but RLLR secured the lucrative National Guard sponsorship contract. The sponsorship is one of the largest in the paddock. It sustained Panther Racing for many years, and they closed shop after losing the contract this year. Many thought this could be the catalyst to propel RLLR and Rahal to success and stardom, but halfway through the season it hasn’t helped at all.
So, neither the #15 or #16 have ran very well, and Graham has often times been outpaced by both speed in practice and finish wise by teammates. Despite Rahal switching engineers and making other personnel changes, the results are just not there. Who do you point the finger at…Graham or the team? Who is the weak link in this equation? Graham didn’t live up to expectations while driving in the best equipment in the paddock at Ganassi, but the RLLR team cars haven’t been a factor no matter who has been behind the wheel.