Graham Rahal’s face and body language told the story as a look of gloom and defeat was present in every demeanor. The worst aspects of the Indianapolis 500 had visited itself as the 15-time starter and his team.
He just wrestled an exaggerated beast at 230 mph during qualifying and the ultimate reward for his superior efforts was the P34. The slowest of the field and the slowest of the four Rahal Letterman Lanegan Racing cars, the team’s most successful driver was at a loss as to how to make a bad situation worse.
“We’re just confused by the balance, but in qualifying here you have to strive for it,” Rahal told RACER. “So wait, and I just tried to make it happen, but the oversteer wasn’t what I expected. Definitely not what’s fast here. And so, it’s just one of those days. We’re going to have to go into battle here.”
The RLL team spent the last two days of practice at the alarming end of the speed charts. With teammate Catherine Legge having the fastest car of the quartet by 3:30pm, the P29 sat in a field of 34 entries after each driver made their first qualifying run.
Behind her was RLL’s Christian Lundgaard in the P30, but with the top 30 being the only cars guaranteed to start the race, the team entered the last 2.5 hours with Jack Harvey and Rahal outside 30th fastest and about to drop into Sunday’s Bump Day group where one of those will be relegated The four drivers for the show.
The big question that RLL was looking for an answer to was how and why he missed so badly at the Texas Oval, in testing the Indy Open, and again in practice and qualifying for the Indy 500.
An unofficial engineering reshuffle brought in an aerodynamicist from Formula 1 as their new technical director, reunited Rahal with the race engineer who had helped achieve his best results, and paired Harvey with Rahal’s former race engineer. Only Lundgaard’s entry remained unchanged, but overall, the team’s performance across the first two ovals of the year was disastrous.
After working through a long list of potential speed treats over the course of the week, Rahal was asked if he or the team had any thoughts left to try and pull the RLL cars off the bottom of the scoring pad.
“No,” he said, “the answer is that there is absolutely nothing.” “That’s the biggest disappointment. There are no speed codes here, there’s no magic bullet that we’re going to find. Where we are is where we are. And as I said to everyone last night, we’re not going fast alone. If we get in, it’s on consistency. And we’ve not been consistent at all there, So this is very frustrating.”
Rahal would try to get into the top 30 at 4:15 p.m., but he went slower and the attempt petered out. At 4:23 p.m., Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports’ David Malukas secured the Lundgaard P30 spot, putting it three RLL cars out of the guaranteed spots.
Lundgaard fired at 4:31 p.m. and outpaced the Malukas by 0.026 mph, regaining the P30. he is back. The Mallaucas would return the favor in the closing minutes of qualifying, rising to P23 and relegating Lundgaard, Harvey and Rahal to Sunday’s dreaded P31-P34 LCQ session. Only Legge was safe on P30.
“I mean, it is what it is,” Lundgaard said.
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