For the first time in five years, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing expanded back to a two-car operation. See, the last time that they did so was back in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Graham Rahal had just two top five finishes and five top 10’s compared to James Jakes’ one top five and three top 10s himself. That was the moment that the team decided that it was time to scale back and focus on their one car effort with Rahal rather than just run a second car for the sake of just running a second car.
The scale back worked.
Two years into the process, Rahal was a championship contender. He won twice during the 2015 season to go along with finishing half of the races inside of the top five. In 2016, he won just one race, but had eight more top five finishes in 16 starts. Last year, Rahal reached victory lane two more times (both at Belle Isle) and had 12 top 10 finishes in 17 races. The only problem in 2017 compared to 2015 was that Rahal was maxed out. See, the only reason to run one car and not two was that they didn’t want to take anything away from Graham’s program. They got it back to relevance but it was a lot of work for Rahal’s No. 15 Honda team to stay competitive. All the testing and all the setup work went through one car and one driver. They knew that if they wanted to take the next step forward, then they needed a second car back.
In came Takuma Sato for 2018.
Sato, started off with a few growing pains as he didn’t score his first top 10 finish until the fourth race of the season in Barber. But, that race in Alabama could be the moment that Sato’s No. 30 Honda team figured it out.
Since Barber, other than a rough Month of May on the oval, Sato has been down right stellar. He has six top 10 finishes over the last eight races on the INDYCAR season and turning into one of the better drivers on the circuit again. In fact, since the calendar turned to June, Sato has four top seven finishes in five starts, including three of which being in the top five. He’s accumulated 137 points in that five race span which ranks fourth most in the series. Only Scott Dixon (193), Ryan Hunter-Reay (173) and Josef Newgarden (145) have more. In comparison, Sato’s teammate Rahal has scored the 10th most points in that time frame with 121. While he’s not been bad though, as Rahal has scored a top 10 finish in all but once race since June, Rahal just hasn’t had the top five efforts like Sato has.
Imagine if this team continues to grow the way that they have this season can stay together in the offseason and where they could be in 2019.