Anyone familiar with IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 knows that the Month of May puts drivers and teams under more pressure than any other race. Over the past two weeks, that rang true for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
For Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, this year’s Month of May started out pretty well. After a less-than-stellar first four races of the season, all three RLL entries qualified in the top eight for the GMR Grand Prix, with Christian Lundgaard dashing to his first career IndyCar pole, and the team’s first since 2020. Lundgaard ended up finishing in fourth in the race, with Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey ending their days in 10th and 20th, respectively.
Although those race results were disappointing for the Rahal camp, their namesake driver saw the bright side of things on an otherwise cloudy day.
“I think it’s pretty sweet when you consider how many guys we got ahead of and how far ahead of them we got, which was pretty good.”, said Rahal. “Hopefully a really strong Indy 500 is next. That’s got to be the goal.”
Unfortunately for the team, “really strong” is the exact opposite of how their Indy 500 preparation has gone so far, especially for Graham.
Struggles on the Oval
The opening days of practice for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 showcased RLL’s struggles with speed across the 2.5-mile oval. Lundgaard, Rahal, and Harvey consistently found themselves in the bottom third of the leaderboard throughout the practice sessions, as did one-off Rahal entry Katherine Legge, who is making her first start at IMS since the 2013 edition of the 500.
With “bumping” returning for qualifying this year at Indianapolis, up came the very real concern that the one entry “bumped” from the Indy 500 would be an RLL car, based on the team’s alarming lack of speed throughout practice. On the opening day of qualifying last Saturday, that concern quickly became a reality.
Going into Bump Day on Sunday, only Legge was locked into the 500, albeit at 30th. The other three Rahal entries had to fight with Sting Ray Robb for the final three spots in the race. On Sunday, it was Graham Rahal who was bumped as time expired by teammate Harvey, meaning that for the first time in his 15-year career at Indianapolis, Rahal would not start in the 500.
.@jack_harvey93 laid it all out on the line and it PAID OFF.
Harvey bumped his teammate and will start P33 in the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.#INDYCAR // #Indy500 pic.twitter.com/DCagwkmUIu
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 21, 2023
Or so we thought.
Things changed late in Monday’s practice session, the first of two between the conclusion of qualifying and the start of Sunday’s race. Legge ran into the back of Stefan Wilson in Turn 1, sending both drivers into the outside wall. While Legge walked away unharmed, Wilson was not as lucky. According to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing on Twitter, the Brit fractured his 12th thoracic vertebrae, meaning that he would not be able to take part in Sunday’s race.
A scary incident in today's #Indy500 practice.@katherinelegge has been seen and released following the incident.#INDYCAR // @IMS pic.twitter.com/M0kqrAjZl9
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 22, 2023
Rahal to the Rescue
Enter Graham Rahal. Less than 24 hours after the devastation of failing to qualify for the Indy 500, there was an opportunity for the veteran driver to race on Sunday. Social media was filled with speculation as to who would fill the No. 24 seat for Dreyer & Reinbold. Rahal led the conversation, although he drives a Honda for RLL, as opposed to DRR’s Chevy engine. 2011 Indy runner-up J.R. Hildebrand and Sage Karam, who drove the No. 24 last year, had their names thrown around.
But in a press conference Tuesday morning, Rahal was the one who got the nod. With 15 years of experience at Indianapolis, there really wasn’t a better or easier option.
“Trust me, I’m excited at the opportunities ahead, as well.”, said Rahal. “Make no mistake, I’ve made it clear, this is certainly Stef’s ride, and I’m fortunate to be able to be in the position to be able to help and fill in, and like I said, hopefully we can have a really, really great Sunday.”
Although Rahal will start at the back due to the driver change, I think he would agree that it is an improvement from watching from the stands. As for the rest of the Rahal camp, Legge leads the way by starting 29th, with Lundgaard behind her in 30th and Harvey in 32nd.