Grand Prix Road America preview – No time to rest for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

There is little time to look back for the NTT IndyCar Series competitors, especially now with the Covid-19 pandemic-forced revised IndyCar schedule. There will be four races in consecutive weekends, two on Road America’s awesome road course on July 11 and 12, two on the tiny seven/eighths of a mile oval at Iowa on July 18 and 19 – two tracks that could not be more different.

Fresh from his second-place finish in the GMR Grand Prix of Indy, Graham Rahal, laying fifth in points, and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan race team have been focusing on the brutal two weekends ahead. Those four races in eight days – and beyond.

There has been cramming galore like students before important exams at the team’s HQ. There’s very limited track time; one practice session, qualifying and race on Saturday, straight repeat on Sunday, two weekends running. Again, this is where studying the Acronis-gathered data is one of the team’s key engineering tools.

“After the second place at Indy I put a lot of time reviewing with the engineers, then asking what are we going to do for Road America?” Rahal told Motorsport Technology. “That is our more immediate focus, as we’ve got two races. We found stuff on the Indy road course that works pretty well, so we’re probably not going to stray too far from what we’ve learned.”

The 4.05-mile road course is one of America’s biggest challenges, sweeping up and down through the Wisconsin forests with climbs, drops and sweeping fast turns. It is a favourite with many, not least Rahal, and one where he shows well­.

“We have always been very good at Road America,” smiles Rahal. “The worst we’ve ever finished is eighth, and we’ve been in the top four or five every other race. We have studied the data over what we have done there in the past – aerodynamic loading all of that, studied what made the car better, and then break it down and focus on what makes it work per corner.

“There are certain corners in Road America that aren’t as important lap time-wise, or performance-wise as others. We had a look at if I took this corner with this set up would it be massively beneficial? Does this corner lead on to quite a long straightaway? If so this is the corner you have to emphasise. We have done all of that, and we have figured that we are going to be fast, there is no doubt.”

With track sections and corner names like ‘Hurry Downs’, the more-than 180 degree ‘Carousel’, ‘Kettle Bottoms’, the key overtaking area ‘Canada Corner’, and ‘Thunder Valley’, does Rahal have a favourite corner of the 14 turns that make up the lap? “Most people would say The Kink, but for me the Carousel is really THE corner. The Carousel is a lot of fun. It’s one hell of a work out! It’s a great corner to go through. With no power steering and new tyres, that corner you have to give it all you’ve got. You are hanging on. It’s definitely a very, very rewarding corner. But they are all special at Road America, a lot of great corners…. Turn One, 125mph corner after coming up the straight at 190mph.”

The two IndyCar Series events run so far have been behind closed doors. At Road America, the doors will be slightly open and a limited number of fans will be there to watch. “I admit that it was ‘different’ having no fans at the races,” says Rahal. “But once you get in to the heat of it all and in to the race, you don’t have a lot of time to think differently. Throughout the weekend not having fans walking through, checking out the cars and signing autographs for them… That’s also a big part of what we do. Not doing that was strange.

“But obviously going to Road America this weekend, we will have some fans there. I don’t know what the level of interaction will be, but we will have fans there and I’m excited by that. I also feel good now going into Road America having knocked the dust off a little bit.”

During the lockdown, Rahal grew a moustache just like his dad, 1986 Indy 500 winner and team owner Bobby, who was also famous for his moustache. Graham’s wife, now-retired NHRA Funny Car winner Courtney Force wasn’t a fan but after his second-place finish, she tweeted “So proud of this mustache man of mine and his second-place finish at the Indy Grand Prix. Guess this means the stache has to stay?”

So, the all-important question…. Is it staying? “Oh yes it is!” he laughs. “The Bob stache is staying!”

With so many races in such a short space of time, life is non-stop. Is there enough time for Rahal and the team to even think about preparing for August 24’s Indy 500, the jewel in the IndyCar crown?

“Yes,” Rahal says emphatically. “There’s no doubt that I’m already pretty focused on Indy. I think everybody is thinking a lot about it, and how we make that work and be successful. We want to win Indy more than anything, everybody knows that, and I really feel that this year we are going to have a great chance to do that. I’m excited by that, and energised by it, and yes… We are certainly paying attention to Indy already.”

Andy Hallbery