To start, it's nice to have a good weekend after our IndyCar schedule of late. This has been a brutal 10-week span starting before Brazil for all concerned but more specifically for the mechanics and engineers who work long hours under a very time compressed schedule.
It's an absolutely crazy schedule, with the amount of work that goes into it and it never lets up. It's essentially a NASCAR schedule with a quarter of the number of people involved and 70-80 percent fewer available cars. They are the same guys who work in the shop that go on the road – and they got back Sunday night at 10 p.m. from Iowa and left at 5 a.m. Monday morning to turn it around again for a Pocono test on Tuesday. So a good weekend for Graham and the team like we had in Iowa makes it all seem worthwhile.
In IndyCar racing, where you have so little practice time, you don't have time to recover if you unload just a bit off. That certainly happened to us at Milwaukee and Texas to a certain extent. There are a lot of new variables, new tire compounds this year for example, which forces the teams to adjust and some adjust better than others.
In Iowa, we unloaded pretty well, as we started with James Jakes' race engineer Eddie Jones' setup, because he has a great deal of oval experience experience. In the case of Graham's engineer, Gerry Hughes, there just isn't that oval experience, because last year with Sato was his first year. Nonetheless, we made a few positive changes on both cars after qualifying. Both Graham and James were in the same heat race and we saw both cars consistent with Graham coming from eighth to win!. It was obviously a big boost to him and the team to have a good race after all the hard work. And then on Sunday Graham put in a great effort to finish fifth after running in the top three for most of the race. As I said, it was a big morale boost for all concerned.
James qualified a bit better – he likes the car looser than Graham, but it bit him in the heat race when he crashed. That wasn't good, so the crew was up until 2:30 a.m. finishing the other car off because we couldn't use that car again. It really puts you behind the eight-ball. In the race James wasn't happy with feel in the car and lost a lap or two as a result. It was not what you hope for and particularly when the other guy is having a good weekend, as Graham did.
Iowa showed just what this team is capable of and I think that Graham and Gerry are starting to mesh – to build the kind of communication needed to be a consistent front-runner. You have to remember that Graham and Gerry have only worked together for six months. Any of the front-runners right now have long-term relationships with their engineers. James Hinchcliffe was with Craig Hampson when he was a rookie at Newman/Haas, Will Power and Dave Faustino go back to his Champ Car days, and Ryan Hunter-Reay's been with Ray Gosselin for three years.
People tend to forget, it wasn't that long ago – two years – when Ryan didn't qualify at Indy. It wasn't that long ago when two Andretti cars didn't qualify. The team was in the dumps and trying to figure out what was going on, and now to their credit, they've completely turned it around. They're the strongest team right now, stronger than Penske and Ganassi, for sure.
James' form has come on as of late. He was fast at Indy and had an unfortunate error on his part coming into a pit stop, hit the crew, and that was a drive-through. That made it difficult to recover. He was fast and could pass people. Detroit was an excellent weekend for him.
For James, Eddie is a very calming influence. Eddie reminds me a lot of Don Halliday, who has worked with Graham and others before. They're kind of old school. Younger engineers are more data-driven but Eddie and Don stick their heads out the window and see which way the wind's blowing, so to speak. I think that's had a positive effect for James. He had a reasonably good race in Texas, and even this last weekend had potential.
Indy this year, as a whole, was just very frustrating. For Graham, we didn't put a long enough gear in the car and he was on the hard rev limiter too much. In the race he still went from 26th on the grid to ninth, then had a mechanical issue that dropped him to P21, and we tried to make up for it and stretched the tires too much. It was similar to what happened with Sato, with Hinchcliffe, and with Townsend Bell and with a severely blistered right rear he just lost it out of Turn 2. We were only going to end up 17th or 18th which was frustrating enough after fighting into the top 10.
The whole Michel Jourdain saga was very disappointing. We did our own internal investigation. It was nothing Michel did; it was self-inflicted from our part. There were some procedural issues. There was a lot of soul searching that went on after that. To clarify, it was the Long Beach chassis Mike Conway ran, a brand-new car for this year.
On the engine front, you can tell Chevy has done a fantastic job, but there have been races where Honda has been dominant. Long Beach and Detroit, for instance. You get to the ovals and they've been Chevy races. You see it in qualifying and the races; I guess we were first in class this weekend. There's a lot of work to do on that front but thankfully there are a lot of road and street courses coming up. And we have faith in Honda to close the gap.
We'll also have some testing with Pocono, Mid-Ohio, and Sonoma all happening later this year. The way the rules are written you can't test within seven days of a race, so when you have a crazy stretch of 10 weeks in a row like this, it pretty much ties your hands. Once again it's a matter of things clicking, and understanding people's needs.
We haven't had any ALMS races with the BMW Z4 in this stretch, since Monterey in May, but we're testing at Atlanta this week as I write. The guys have worked on the cars in this off period to make them better.
Lime Rock should suit the Z4 well as it's a handling course, not a power course. If nothing changes on the restrictor front, Mosport and Elkhart Lake will be ugly for us. We were 6mph slower on the back straight at Sebring than the Corvettes, so hopefully the powers-that-be will see the discrepancy and give us what we need. In the end, we'll do the best with what we've got and see where that takes us.
I was able to see a few bits of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was a fascinating race where weather played a big role. Of course it was such a shame with the loss of Allan Simonsen; it's a real tragedy, like any of these things are. I was very happy to see Tom Kristensen win again – I don't think that record will be broken anytime soon – and for our old driver Bertrand Baguette to win the P2 class. I sent him a congratulatory note and appreciate anything good that happens to him.
If there has been a nice diversion, it's been the Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup! Graham's a big hockey fan and we watched the series with great interest. That's it for now. Until next time…
Thanks for reading.
To learn more about Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing, go to To learn more about the team, go to www.rahal.com. Rahal is also on Twitter at @BobRahal.