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IndyCar Open Wheel

MCCUBBIN: IndyCar Building Momentum, Still Work To Do

Over the past several years, the Verizon IndyCar Series has found attendance numbers lower than they would’ve hoped, searching for ways to attract new attention. After a successful season, it appears that everything is currently up on the upswing.

“I think there’s no doubt it’s on the upswing,” Graham Rahal said. “And what I like about what we have going on here is there’s no fake news out there. There’s no — let’s just say something just to say it. Genuinely, everybody, Jay and the entire organization here, Bill, they’ve done a great job. And there’s no doubt it’s headed in the right direction.”

The signs of everything falling in place are there.

The Indianapolis 500 drew attention from all directions, with the 100th running being a sell-out crowd. Other tracks saw an increase in attendance across the schedule, especially the street circuits which have been able to draw fans in with a variety of competition through the weekend.

The racing on track was close, including Rahal just edging out James Hinchcliffe for the victory at Texas Motor Speedway. The sport was able to reach new avenues through their superstars attending other events, being victorious in events at the Race of Champions, and Hinchcliffe finishing runner-up on Dancing with the Stars.

Despite the positives, there is still work to be done, in the eyes of some.

The TV package could use some improving as it can be tough finding out what channel the race is on with the schedule split between two television stations, and not on a same constant or pattern basis.

Being able to even up the competition would help in attracting fans, knowing every driver has a shot to win. Everybody knows the talent is there as each driver within the field comes in with their set of accomplishments and reasons they can win. As Rahal put it, “this is the deepest field anywhere in motorsports.”

However, it doesn’t appear that is being shown on track right now. Team Penske dominated the schedule last year with their foursome of drivers, winning 10 of the 16 races with their drivers sweeping the top-three spots. The success could be attributed to the quality of drivers in the organization, but also Chevrolet’s dominance of winning all the races but two. It’s been clear for a couple of years that Chevrolet has an advantage over Honda.

The series has taken steps towards fixing that, set to get rid of the manufacturer based aero kits in 2018 and go back to a single aero package across the board. As a result, the success of a driver and team would come down to themselves and their manufacture’s engine package. The new car is also supposed to help competition basis, by allowing for a better close-up on the road courses to increase passing opportunities.

“I do hope that the new car has less aero wash,” Rahal said. “I do hope that the under tray is more effective and that you can actually follow closer to make the road course racing a little easier because, with these aero kits for sure, it’s more difficult. And really, you then rely more on the tires to create the falloff and then create the racing, which Firestone has done a great job of that.

“But I think the new car — you know, I haven’t seen the finished product by any means, but I think it looks pretty awesome. You know, it’s — I’m excited about it.”

Despite everything, there are reasons for why they may not be able to win everybody over, thanks to those still upset over the previous split which happened. However, the key is to look forward – not backward.

“You’ve got your just passionate haters out there that are going to continue to just do that,” Graham Rahal said. “But in general, what I really enjoy is I do see the series has so much potential and is headed, without a doubt, in the right direction.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Engineer Swaps Could Be Key to Success

When the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season ended everyone was on notice that Team Penske would be the team to beat. With its four drivers, Simon Pagenaud (5 wins and the 2016 Championship), Will Power (4), Juan Pablo Montoya (1), and Helio Castroneves (0), the team racked up ten victories in sixteen events. Maybe not a surprise as Team Penske is known for its ultra professionalism and its name is synonymous with success.

This Chevrolet-powered team greatly contributed to the domination of Honda, the other engine manufacturer in the series. Scott Dixon (2 wins) driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Sebastien Bourdais (1) for KVSH Racing, and Josef Newgarden (1) for Ed Carpenter Racing gave Chevy its other four victories. Honda, however, did win the most coveted event, the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, with rookie Alexander Rossi driving for Andretti Autosport. Also winning for Honda was Graham Rahal (driving for his father’s team – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), by stealing a victory at Texas from fellow Honda driver, James Hinchcliffe (driving for Schmidt Peterson Racing). 

Making it even harder for teams to get to Winner’s Circle this year is the freeze on the development of aero kits that both Chevy and Honda designed (kits consisting of front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover). And, while Honda seemed to be stronger than Chevy on superspeedways, Chevy won all the road, street course, and short oval events. So if an engine manufacturer didn’t have the optimal design as the 2015 season ended, the rules prohibit changes.

One of the ways to obtain ideas on how to improve your effort is to hire people away from winning teams. And, with the majority of the IndyCar team shops located in the Indianapolis area, it makes it very easy for personnel to change employers. 

RLLR hired Tom German who was Rossi’s engineer last season at Andretti and before that had over ten years at Team Penske.

“We brought on Tom German to help out on the engineering front with specialty projects, particularly because Indianapolis was such a struggle,” explained Rahal. “German brought with him a wealth of knowledge. German implemented some of the processes that say a Penske does in areas that we weren’t that strong. Even areas we actually thought we were, and he looked at and suggested a whole bunch of stuff, At Iowa I struggled with massive tire vibration issues the last couple years; I had no hope. Yet, he’s cured me of that. On the preparation side of things, German has already pinpointed things we need to do.

“My hope, as a Honda guy through and through, is that the engine can continue to improve and overcome what the aero kit lacks. There is no doubt that there are aero kit inefficiencies. It is a little bit tough going into a season knowing we’re going to have the same uphill battle we’ve had for the last couple years. I actually believe that Honda on the engine side is pretty strong and will continue to develop. Horsepower can overcome anything!”

Newgarden won on the shortest oval in 2016, the Iowa race. His engineer at ECR, Jeremy Milless (pictured), was recently hired to fill the vacancy at AA as Rossi’s engineer. Certainly, Ryan Hunter-Reay will appreciate his expertise after his struggles at Iowa last season.

“Eric Bretzman has been brought over from Ganassi’s NASCAR program (formerly Dixon’s IndyCar engineer) as Technical Director (of Andretti Autosport),” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 IndyCar champion. “He asked what our biggest complaint was and why we weren’t addressing it.

“We also have Jeremy from ECR. One track really threw us for a loop last year. We’ve always been very, very strong at Iowa. It just completely turned on its head for us last year. In the past, I knew exactly where to put the car, what I could do with the wheel over the bumps – what I could get away with, and the car would be forgiving. This past race every bump I went over was trying to turn the car around. It was almost terrifying to drive because it was only a matter of time before something bad would happen. I can’t say I was overly disappointed when the engine expired.

“We know the areas we need to improve in and we’ve been focusing on that this off-season. There’s no reason why we can’t win four or five races.”

Justin Taylor, coming from the Audi factory LMP1 sports car program, joined ECR as JR Hildebrand’s engineer. And, AJ Foyt Racing, switching to Chevy power, added Will Phillips, who previously served as IndyCar’s VP of Technology, to be Carlos Munoz’s engineer.

With testing limited to only four days, teams look for any means to become more competitive. Hiring engineers from other teams is one way to cross-pollinate the lessons learned and bring in new ideas. And, that’s what makes the IndyCar series so enjoyable to watch with its stiff competition and versatility challenge for both drivers and teams having to adapt to ovals – short and superspeedways, and the road and street courses.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Rahal Hopes to Build on 2016 to Contend for Championship

After showing speed last year, Graham Rahal is set on putting himself in championship contention this season.

The lack of changes for the series help as Rahal and team will be able to enter the year on the same foot, just looking to enhance the package they’ve already built. The process has already begun as the team brought in Tom German to help on an engineering front. While German worked with Alexander Rossi last season, he spent a bunch of years prior with Team Penske.

“We really messed up on some aerodynamic testing that we did before,” he said. “We only did one day of wind tunnel testing, and it completely fooled us, and that’s what happened to us at Indy. We just reacted to this one day, and the data points weren’t even correct, and it literally ruined our entire month.”

On the flip side, though, the lack of changes have the drivers pondering what is possible this season, as Honda struggled last year compared to their counterpart in Chevrolet.

“Is it a little bit tough kind of going into a season knowing, okay, we’re going to have the same uphill battle we’ve had for the last couple years? Yes. But again, I actually believe that Honda on the engine side is pretty strong, and I think that that will continue to develop,” Rahal said. “A couple new hires that they’ve had starting middle of last year really helped the performance of the engine, I think, the second half of the year, just getting comfortable pushing it a little bit more, and I think that will continue to happen.”

Following a fourth place points standing finish in 2015, Graham Rahal entered the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series boosting confidence in the potential of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team. In the end, the results didn’t match the thoughts as Rahal found himself a spot further back in the year-end standings, finishing fifth.

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably, and we just did our season reviews about a month ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better,” he said.

Rahal stated the lack of results came from things not going their way in 2016 as much as they did in 2015, where lucky breaks are concerned. If not for the issues they ran into, he feels they could’ve been able to finish second in the standings to Simon Pagenaud.

“We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship, but you know, if I look throughout the entire season, it starts right off with St. Pete running in the top 5, getting punted. Everybody knows that whole image,” he said. “So you know, you get — running from fifth, solidly if fifth, great race car that day, there’s no doubt we would have stayed there if not improved, and you finish 13th or whatever. So right there is a missed opportunity.”

While the results weren’t there, Rahal was able to be more consistent in qualifying, including a personal highlight of making the Firestone Fast Six for each of the road courses, except Watkins Glen where he was given a penalty.

“Our qualifying performance was pretty solid everywhere compared to 2015 where our qualifying was certainly weak,” he said. “But 2016, we were in the ballpark a lot. We were in the Fast Six a lot.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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EMBURY: The RIGHT Way To Keep It In The Family

As evidenced in part one, it can be difficult to separate family pressure from what occurs on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit.

In the 2000s decade, the Foyt family as previously documented, was unable to shield A.J. Foyt IV from it to allow the fourth-generation driver to maximize his output. In part two I will examine another family group that has found success. The father and son combination of Bobby and Graham Rahal have been able to hit the sweet spot of success, by following one simple target.

The so-called secret X, in this case, was waiting to join forces rather than pairing up right from the start as the Foyts elected to do. In fact, the 1986 Indy 500 champion when Graham wanted to enter the racing world made it clear that he would need to do so on his own, rather than riding on his coattails.

Early on, Graham Rahal would do well by himself, making his initial breakthrough in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship with Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing team. Graham crossed the finish first in five of 12 races in the 2006 season to finish second in the final standings, catching the attention of Paul Newman and Carl Haas who signed the second-generation driver to compete in what would be the last season of the Champ Car World Series. Although facing high expectations driving right out of the box for one of North American open-wheel racing’s strongest organizations, Rahal had a solid first full season in the premiere division, earning four podium finishes and placing fifth in the championship. Following the reunification of the sport in 2008, Rahal would continue with Newman/Haas Racing through for two more seasons.

This time, however, the early returns would not be as impressive. Although Rahal won at St. Petersburg, Florida in his first IndyCar Series
appearance to open the 2008 campaign, he would place a disappointing 17th on the final points table. However, the lack of high results was
not solely on Graham’s shoulders.

Despite the success enjoyed by Newman/Haas since its debut in 1984 with Mario Andretti, the team was forced to play catch up against
organizations that already had experience handling the IndyCar Series’ Dallara chassis and were unable to challenge for results. Things improved significantly in 2009 however, as Rahal jumped to seventh at season’s end, which featured two podium finishes, both on ovals.

Rahal was rideless when the 2010 IndyCar Series started when a loss of sponsorship money cost the Ohio-native his seat at Newman/Haas until the second half of the year. After running a handful of events with Sarah Fisher Racing to open the year, Rahal finally joined forces with his dad’s Rahal Letterman Racing team for the Indianapolis 500.

It is at this point where I need to stop the presses for a second. Keep in mind, as opposed to the road taken by A.J. Foyt IV who had stuck with his family from the word go, Rahal had three years of top level racing on his resume, plus additional years in the lower levels with other racing teams before calling on his family for help to continue his career. At this point, there was zero pressure on Graham to succeed in this role and more importantly no learning curve, two roadblocks which hampered A.J. Foyt IV during his career.

So based on those two factors, it was no surprise Graham Rahal was able to qualify a solid seventh on pole day and finish a respectable 12th on race day, significant improvements from his first two Indy 500 efforts which each ended with accidents.

After spending two seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, placing in the top ten overall in each, Rahal re-joined Rahal Letterman on a full-time basis in 2013. After suffering through mechanical gremlins and bad luck in years one and two, Graham has been able to put together back-to-back solid seasons driving the No. 15 Steak & Shake Restaurants Honda, winning three events and finishing as the highest placed Honda driver on the points table both years.

With the Rahal father-and-son full-time partnership entering year number five in 2017, the ultimate goal has shifted from race challenger to championship contender – definitely a far cry from what became of the Foyt family experiment that began over a decade ago.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: IndyCar Stars Who Have Conquered The Rolex 24

The wheels are not exposed and the cars feature roofs, yet many veterans of the Verizon IndyCar Series have taken well to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. And while proving road racing savvy is not limited to one series of competition, a few big names of the current or recent fulltime fleet have managed to put a Rolex Chronometer on their wrists as an overall champion.

The biggest benefactors to this over the last decade have been drivers associated with Chip Ganassi Racing, who have achieved similar success in sports car racing as they have over the years in IndyCar competition. Former IndyCar veteran and 1995 Michigan 500 winner Scott Pruett has won the Rolex 24 overall on five occasions, four coming with Ganassi. With the larger than normal driving teams at Daytona sometimes requiring as many as five different pilots for one car, the former driver and current team boss has often opened the door to his drivers from both his IndyCar and NASCAR operations to participate in the famous endurance race and several have made the most of the opportunity.

The most successful of those one-off runners is two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia, who has reached the top step of the podium in the Rolex 24 at Daytona three times.  Multi-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has collected two overall wins at Daytona, while current teammate Tony Kanaan paired up with Dixon to the race in 2015, while Charlie Kimball teamed up with Pruett to earn first place in 2013. In addition to the three members of the four drivers currently featured on Ganassi’s fulltime openwheel racing team, former team members Graham Rahal, Dario Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon have also tasted success at the Rolex 24.

Of course, IndyCar drivers succeeding at Daytona, have not been limited to Chip Ganassi Racing, however. For instance, current Dale Coyne Racing team member Sebastien Bourdais joined forces with former Newman Haas Racing pilot Christian Fittipaldi to win the race for Action Express Racing in 2014. Reigning Rolex 24 at Daytona champion Scott Sharp, won the inaugural Indy Racing League title in 1996 and won the pole position for the 2001 Indianapolis 5oo. Also, 2004 Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice won at Daytona in 2009 as part of the famed Brumos Racing team.

In addition to the above listed names, since 1990 fellow Indy 500 veterans Davy Jones, P.J. Jones, Mark Dismore, Rocky Moran, John Paul, Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Didier Theys, Chris Kniefel, Johnny O’Connell, Max Papis, A.J. Allmendinger, and the late Justin Wilson have also won the overall race in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Among those veterans, the efforts from Luyendyk, Theys, and Papis stand out the most in the history of the twice around the clock challenge. Luyendyk and Theys made up half of the driving quartet that delivered longtime driver and entrant Dr. Gianpiero Moretti his first and only Daytona triumph in 1998, after the Ferrari runner had come close earlier in the 1990s on several occasions. Papis teamed up with Theys to win the race in 2002; however, the Italian may be more remembered for his late race surge to within a lap of the overall win over the final three hours of the event in 1996.

Although the chances of another current IndyCar driver claiming overall victory in 2017 appears limited at this point, there could be plenty of action in the lower grand touring classes. Paul Gentilozzi’s new GT Daytona class Lexus team will feature Pruett, three-time Indy 500 starter Sage Karam, and former A.J. Foyt Racing driver Jack Hawksworth. Michael Shank Racing’s new Acura NSXs will have current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay behind the wheel, while Scott Dixon will team up with 2012 Indy 500 pole sitter Ryan Briscoe in a Ford GT for Chip Ganassi in the GT Le Mans class.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

EMBURY: The Five Most Action Packed Corners in IndyCar

 Races at the highspeed ovals such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Texas Motor Speedway generally draw the most attention among those who follow the Verizon IndyCar Series. However, the road and street circuits which make up a larger portion of the current slate of events each have their own “action” hot spots where several memorable moments have occurred. Now some of these have been more tilted toward the positive side, while some have been not so good.

In this week’s commentary, I take a look at the five wildest corners currently in IndyCar and why each deserves its top billing.

 

5. St Petersburg Street Circuit’s Turn One:

The first braking zone of the season has often seen three and fourwide passing attempts work out great for some, yet poorly for others. Marco Andretti’s recent wild ride comes to mind here, among several others most commonly occurring at the opening of the new year. The off camber nature of this oddly angled righthander, plus its bumpy nature and the funnel down effect at the apex makes contact here sometimes unavoidable.

The key to mastering this section is getting off the final hairpin cleanly to maximize the airport runway front straight. Any slip or slide will make one vulnerable to any Push to Pass aided overtake at turn one, unless one defends the inside lane and forces the trailing car to take a long way around.

4.Watkins Glen International’s Inner Loop Chicane:

While New York’s Thunder Road features several great corners, the Inner Loop chicane has been the scene of many out braking duels in both IndyCar and NASCAR. Created in 1992 to slow down cars on the fast back straightaway, the section inadvertently created probably the most opportune chance to gain positions on the circuit. Being able to complete a maneuver before entering the first part of the Inner Loop to finish off a pass successfully is required, as the curbs at all parts of this section will launch a car off the ground. As a result, a full out of control scenario where a trip to the outside gravel trap is certainly possible.

Being able to hold the accelerator wide open through the uphill Esses and turn four will open up any the door of opportunity to gain ground with Push to Pass activation most effectively done just entering the chute before the run to the braking zone.

3. Exhibition Place Street Circuit’s (Toronto) Turn 3:

Although the narrow nature of the Exhibition Place design has made passing famously difficult over the years, the run down Lake Shore Boulevard to the tight, turn three righthander serves as the area where overtaking most commonly is attempted. Although several successful passes come to mind, one of most infamous challenges gone wrong came in 1989 when Mario Andretti tried to pass Teo Fabi. Andretti moved alongside Fabi, only to find the abandoned Alfa Romeo of Roberto Guererro parked in the same area. Although Andretti managed to escape the nasty impact without suffering injury, the incident would significantly change the way the series would handle stopped cars on the track.

Minus Andretti’s unfortunate situation, the majority of incidents occurring at turn three have been much less wild. The key to gaining or holding position here is getting the braking zone right and being positioned correctly entering the corner. The closer one applies the brakes in relation to the pedestrian bridge on Lake Shore Blvd., makes one more likely to lock up or miss the sweet spot of the corner. This can result in contact with the outside tire barrier and/or position loss since the turn’s narrow nature makes side by side racing next to impossible. You also do not want to get caught on the outside line entering the corner as it is not the most efficient way to hit the entry. An approach using the middle of the road or just left of center should allow for a dive to the inside of the car in front.

2. Streets of Long Beach’s Turn One:

The braking area at the end of Shoreline Drive in its current and previous configurations has been witness to many great moments over the years. Although the infamous turn 11 hairpin draws a majority of attention, getting out of this section cleanly is the goal to make any overtaking maneuver at the conclusion of Shoreline possible. One great example came in 1999 when then CART rookie Juan Pablo Montoya made a pair of successful overtakes at turn one on the way to his first career North American openwheel victory. The section was also a controversial corner in 2016 as Simon Pagenaud appeared to cut off the pit lane exit entering turn one to maintain the lead over Scott Dixon.

Although gaining ground is certainly possible at the 90-degree lefthander, the consequences for getting the turn wrong can be nasty. The tire barrier and runoff roads have caught many drivers who elected to be too cavalier at attempting a late out braking charge and sometimes the impacts with the tires have been so wild that cars have even rolled over as a result. Even before the 1999 track reconfiguration around the city’s aquarium, the former turn one was equally memorable as a 90-degree righthander with many successful overtakes and several unsuccessful moments, including Scott Pruett’s wild shunt in practice for the 1992 race.

1. Barber Motorsports Park’s Charlotte’s Web Hairpin (Turn Three):

Although the quick turn nature of the Birmingham, Alabama layout makes most of the corners here a follow the leader exercise, the story is different when the IndyCar fleet enters the tight and tricky downhill hairpin, named for the spider statue beyond the left side barriers. The tougher braking zone makes missing the apex common here and drivers can be punished for trying to get out of the hairpin too soon. Recall earlier this year when Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal were battling, which eventually resulted in contact and the Team Penske pilot going off course, before finally reeling in and overtaking the damaged car of Rahal to secure the race win.

Getting off of the uphill turn two without spinning the tires and coupled with a pressing of the Push to Pass button on the steering wheel should allow for a passing attempt to occur at Charlotte’s Web, whether a driver takes the inside lane or even the outside lane. Unlike the other facets of the Barber circuit, the hairpin is wide enough to account for side by side racing and does offer decent grip using the longer, outside route.

Although every road and street circuit currently in the Verizon IndyCar Series has its own character and has its own signature section, the five challenges mentioned above currently provide the most excitement that open wheel racing has to offer.

Agree with my list? Believe there is another corner(s) worth a mention? Post your comment below or leave a comment on Twitter.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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IndyCar Open Wheel

2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Year in Review: Graham Rahal

Despite a rocky season with eight finishes outside of the top-10, Graham Rahal was able to put enough good results together to finish fifth in points.

 

Points Finish: 5th

Car No.: 15

Driver Name: Grahal Rahal

Team Name: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Total Races: 16

Victories: 1 – Texas Motor Speedway

Podiums: 4

Top-Fives: 8

Top-10s: 8

Average Start: 12.8

Average Finish: 8.9

DNFs: 1

 

 

After a breakout campaign which allowed Graham Rahal to prove himself last year, there were high hopes for an even stronger season in 2016.

Rahal started off the season on a rocky note, though, posting a 16th place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg after being involved in a multi-car crash in turn four. He then flipped the results around a week later as he finished fifth at Phoenix International Raceway.  The back and forth flip flop continued through the season as he finished 15th at Long Beach, followed by a runner-up at Barber Motorsports Park. It looked as if he was going to win at Barber, however late race trail of events changed that.

Running faster lap times, he caught Simon Pagenaud with eight laps to go. He made a move to the inside at the bottom of the backstretch. Pagenaud blocked, resulting in contact between the pair that sent Pagenaud off the track into the gravel.

“I had a heck of a run. He blocked me, a really solid block, and the worst part wasn’t that he didn’t leave the room, it was that he was diagonal to the apex. I mean, just turned in way earlier than you’d normally turn in,” Rahal explained. “You can watch the overhead camera; it’s pretty easy to see. So I’m glad there was a no-call because for sure it’s a racing incident, but you would never turn in where he turned in. He was purposely trying to cut me off there.”

Finally in the lead, Rahal looked to be headed to victory, but got caught behind the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth with three laps to go. Hawksworth slowed to move out of the leaders way, catching Rahal off-guard. Rahal tried to make the quick move to the outside of Hawksworth, but caught the back of him, ripping off his right front wing. Pagenaud made up the lost ground and easily passed Rahal, seizing the lead to score the victory.

He was able to follow it up with a fourth in the Indianapolis Grand Prix despite starting tail of the field due to a post-qualifying infraction, only to finish 14th in the Indianapolis 500. Belle Isle also became a tale of two worlds as he finished fourth in race one, followed by an 11th in race two due to a late-race pit stop. The yo-yo effect carried through the summer for Rahal as in the five races which followed, he posted a pair of top-fives to go with three finishes outside of the top-10.

Despite enduring his fair share of bad luck this year, he didn’t go winless as he led 51 laps en route to winning at Texas Motor Speedway. Rahal battled back and forth with James Hinchcliffe through the final laps, passing him for the final time in turn three on the last lap to win by 0.0080 of a second, the fifth-closest finish in series history and tightest finish in the track’s 20-year history.

Unfortunately, the momentum didn’t carry to Watkins Glen as contact with Charlie Kimball resulted in Rahal crashing into the wall and finishing 21st. He’d complete the season a good note, though, posting a runner-up in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Highlight of 2016 – Texas Motor Speedway and winning by 0.0080 of a second over James Hinchcliffe

Downfall of 2016 – The rocky consistency was resulted in a lower finish in points than some predicted for Rahal this year.

Road/Street Course Analysis – The results don’t say much with six top-fives in 11 races, but he showed he could race with the best as evident by a runner-up at Sonoma and his back and forth battle with Pagenaud at Barber Motorsports Park.

Oval Analysis – While he picked up the win at Texas Motor Speedway, there was only one other top-five in the other four oval races in 2016.

Notes for 2017 – If Rahal and team can tidy up some of the inconsistencies they had in 2016, whether fault of our or performance package with Honda, they could find themselves in championship contention.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.