Since last we checked in, we were getting ready for St. Petersburg and coming off Sebring. Now, we've just had a pretty big weekend in Long Beach, which was great for the entire team.
Going in, certainly there was a lot of frustration on everyone's part after Barber, because the cars weren't as good as we hoped. We had qualified 11th fastest with Graham, but because of the way qualifying works with groups we wound up 21st on the grid although James Jakes qualified a very good 11th.
Graham got up to 12th, but ran out of fuel just two corners from the end! We did a lot of investigation on the fuel tank and various other things, and we left Barber with some points on the table we should have had. There were also other issues with James's car. There was a lot of soul searching going on after that.
So, we had sort of a “come to Jesus” meeting with everybody, and everybody responded. What's so rewarding about Long Beach is that we unloaded right on the pace, right out of the trailer, with Mike Conway, Graham and James. Mike did a super job for the team and blu eCigs, especially given the extra amount of effort to get a third car ready. We had some people from the BMW team do the pit stops on Sunday and the car was managed by some current and ex-team members during the rest of the weekend. It was a real team effort overall, to say the least.
There was some disappointment in the race. Mike did really well before he had the electrical issue, and it cut his day short. James, unfortunately, had a long pit stop but did a good job all weekend. I think we once again left something on the table in his case. Graham had a great race and really managed to pull off a result. He wishes he would have qualified better, because where he did qualify made it harder to improve, but he passed everyone he needed to get to the front. That's the kind of race we should have every weekend. That's the goal.
I do think he feels he could have had a better shot at Takuma Sato without Charlie Kimball ahead of him on a restart, for sure. We asked the officials to tell Kimball to move back or do something, but he was trying to get his lap back. It was going to be tough for that to happen. They didn't do anything and it turned out Kimball was the one that paid the price, and a few others.
In the end, Mike showed his talent, James hung in there and drove like a pro and Graham had great re-starts to leapfrog many others and get to the front. All in all, a good Long Beach for the IndyCar guys.
We had a shot at two wins because the BMW program did a great job on Saturday with the 1-2 finish in the ALMS race. Going in, we felt we'd be more competitive there than at Sebring, because Long Beach is a handling track. Our big deficit right now is straight line speed. It seems right now the Vipers and Corvettes are faster in a straightaway. But we're pretty good under braking and handling.
In the end, we had the difference in strategy in both cars. We were on the medium compound of Michelins and I think some others were on softs, and I think that made a difference. Both of us got by the Viper because they ran out of tires. We weren't fastest, but we were fast enough, and we had really good strategy.
Maxime Martin went off at the start, and when something like that happens, you really have nothing to lose at the back of the field. You pit early and pit often, as they say. I was surprised that others didn't follow us or the 56 car; I thought more guys would try that strategy. The 55 car (Martin and Bill Auberlen) – they nailed it, because they didn't have much to lose and there were a bunch of yellows, which worked into their favor.
This was evident to me with one yellow about halfway into the race. I looked over and saw Bruno Couprie, who is the engineer on the 55, and he's jumping around with glee because he knew that was all they needed to get to the end on fuel. It was a great strategy and a great win for us.
Long Beach was also our fifth dinner for the Road Racing Drivers' Club, where Brian Redman was our honoree. I was really pleased for Brian, as he's a longtime friend. If people didn't know him, they will know much more now. There's not a lot of people have the record he does, and it's great for people to hear his story. When you read about him and see what he does, it's a lot.
We had three different automobile manufacturers sponsor that evening, which almost never happens! They did it out of respect for Brian and the results he gave them under each of their banners. The support was great, and for us, it's really a great night to celebrate the sport.
We feel good about life from the end of April going into May. As we head to Monterey next with ALMS, it isn't a horsepower track but it is a handling track, and I think we feel we can be pretty competitive there. That track will suit us a little bit more. Other tracks like Mosport or Elkhart Lake, we might get killed because of our reasonable deficit in straightline speed. But Monterey should be in our house, so to speak.
Going into Brazil for IndyCar, I can't imagine us going in better than if we had won the race. It was a bit of a moral victory in Long Beach. But it's such a tough field – it's so unbelievably tight. Graham's gone well there –second in 2011, and last year he ran in the top four, before Conway punted Dario Franchitti on a restart and Graham had to go through an escape road and lost positions. I think he should be comfortable, and his confidence level is up.
The result hasn't been there for James yet, but we are very pleased with what's going on there. We expect him to be competitive. And now we have the third car for Indy locked in with Michel Jourdain again, which we announced this week.
You may be wondering what I think about Takuma winning for A.J.: I'm pleased for him. He's a super guy and I really enjoyed him being with us last year. As I said, if we had to finish second to someone, I'm glad it was to Takuma.
This year in IndyCar, as soon as you sneeze, someone jumps ahead of you and takes your spot. We know Penske, Ganassi and Andretti are still the favorites. But if they trip up a bit, someone's right there. We don't want to rely on them tripping up – we want to beat them head-to-head – but any sort of hiccup costs you. IndyCar is just sooo competitive!
Thanks for reading.
Bobby Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing competes with Graham Rahal in the No. 15 and James Jakes in the No. 16 Dallara-Hondas in the IZOD IndyCar Series and with two BMW Z4s in the American Le Mans Series. To learn more about the team, go to www.rahal.com. Rahal is also on Twitter at @BobRahal.