LONG BEACH, Calif – It was rough start to Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for Graham Rahal. He got into the back of Simon Pagenaud in the first corner on the opening lap, causing Pagenaud to crash and his day end with a 24th place effort. Rahal, was consequentially penalized for avoidable contact and dropped from the top five to outside the top 20 in the running order.
The rest of the 85 Lap race, he’d slowly battle back. In the end, Rahal brought his No. 15 Honda home fifth for his third straight top 10 finish in as many tries to start the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season off. That’s his best start to any season of his career.
I’m sorry about what happened to Simon (Pagenaud),” Rahal said of the incident. “That’s not how I like to do things. It’s just like St. Pete, the rears (tires) locked up and I barely made the corner. I think (Scott) Dixon bailed out because he thought I wasn’t going to make it. It hurt my race, too, obviously, with getting the penalty, having to go to the back and battle our way through. I think we had a car that could have had a shot at (Alexander) Rossi today. We made some changes for the race and the Total car was fantastic. I’m really disappointed in myself and disappointed in the way that it all began, but I’m proud of the Total team for the way that it finished. We made a lot of passes today. I passed more cars here today that I have passed in a long time. We had a lot of fun, but we want to win. Yes, it’s a good start to the year and with our United Rentals Turns for Troops program, we raised a lot more money. To be third and finish all the laps so far and finish in the top-five a couple of times and get a podium so far is good, but this was our best weekend yet. We deserved to be there this weekend and that’s why it’s a little bittersweet.”
For example, it took him until June to get three top 10 finishes last year. It wasn’t until Indy in 2015 and again in 2016 that he’d get three top 10 finishes in the season.
You get the point.
Rahal, told me before this weekend’s race around the 1.968-mile scenic street circuit that he was taking this season more seriously than ever before. He felt like 2018 was going to potentially be a banner year for them.
So far, he’s right.
Rahal, sits third in the standings, just 33 points out, heading to Barber, a track that among his best on the schedule. He has a chance to do something special here.
Also, Rahal told me that they’re going to also do their best at remaining calm and not making wholesale changes so quickly. There’s never more proof than this weekend at that.
Rahal, improved in every session. He went from 11th to eighth to sixth in all three practice sessions. He’d improve in qualifying too and started fifth.
In the race, he finished third.