Sato and Rahal Were 8th and 10th Fastest, Respectively, in Practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Verizon IndyCar Series
PRACTICE NOTES/QUOTES – Friday, April 20, 2018


1st:      Josef Newgarden      1:07.4345 / 122.786 mph      

8th:     Takuma Sato             1:08.0628 / 121.652 mph

10th:   Graham Rahal           1:08.1076 / 121.572 mph

GRAHAM RAHAL, No. 15 Mi-Jack Dallara/Honda/Firestone:  “Today was okay.  I didn’t think that we were great there in the second practice but if you’re off a little bit, it can make a five, six, seven-spot difference.  It’s going to be really tight (in lap time) there tomorrow so we’ve got to work on it and get the car a little better. (On whether qualifying performance is even more important if rain falls during the race:) Qualifying will be important but I think if its rainy, I think you will be able to make moves and you will see a lot of guys make mistakes.”

  • FAST FACTS: Rahal will make his ninth start here… He played a major factor in the most exciting races of the 2015 and 2016 seasons as he challenged for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama win in 2015 and 2016 but finished second  both times.  In 2017, he qualified 21st and alternate strategy didn’t pay off so he was only able to gain eight positions to finish 13th. In 2016, he started sixth and moved into fourth when Bourdais and Dixon made contact on the first lap. He stretched his fuel the farthest and cycled into the lead by the time he made his first of three pits stops and returned to the track in fourth.  He cycled into second place before his second stop on Lap 43 and returned to the track in third place and reclaimed second place on Lap 65 by passing Power.  On Lap 81, Rahal attempted to pass Pagenaud but the Frenchman made an evasive move and the two made contact sending Pagenaud off course and he returned second to Rahal.  Later the pass was deemed a racing incident. On Lap 85 of 90, Rahal was behind traffic which enabled Pagenaud to close. Sixteenth placed Hawksworth allowed Rahal to pass but the two made contact which allowed Pagenaud to take the lead. Rahal’s already compromised front wing (mechanical failure on a portion since approx. Lap 50) took a fatal blow and he struggled to hold on to second place until the checkered flag.  The 2015 race at BMP kicked off a strong run of races for Rahal that largely continued for the rest of the season. He started eighth and passed Kanaan on the opening lap. He later lost a position to Filippi but passed Dixon for 7th. He pitted and ran ninth place but moved to third as others made their stops. He held off charges from fourth place Hinchcliffe on several restarts and later built a gap on him while leading Laps 35-46. He pitted from the lead for his second stop, dropped to 15th but cycled back into the lead for Laps 65-69. He made his final stop on Lap 71 and returned to the track in sixth place, approx.. 20 seconds behind the leader. With new tires and more fuel than others, he consistently turned lap times that were one-to-two seconds quicker than those in front of him and eventually passed Power, Hunter-Reay and Castroneves before he was able to close the gap on second-place Dixon in the closing laps. With less than two laps to go, he passed Dixon but ran out of time to catch eventual race winner Newgarden and finished second.  In 2014, Rahal started 18th on a wet track, ran as high as 10th, dropped four places after being hit by two cars and ultimately finished 17th.  In 2013, Rahal set a lap time fast enough to progress to Round 2 and qualify in the top-12 if he had been in Group 2 but he was in Group 1 and ultimately qualified 21st.  He had to pit for a new nose on the opening lap after the field checked up and he hit Servia. He moved up to 12th place but ran out of fuel on the final lap due to a malfunction in the fueling system and dropped to 21st.  He started 8th, led one lap and finished fourth here in 2012 for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing (SCCGR). He started 10th and finished 18th in 2011 for SCCGR and started 15th and finished 17th for Sarah Fisher Racing in 2010.

TAKUMA SATO, No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Dallara/Honda/Firestone:  “The second session was better. I think we made some good progress from the first one. The first session was a little bit of finding the right direction to go in and it seems we found one. Still we have a little work to be done Saturday.  Having said that, there was quite a few yellows and red flags that interrupted the session. I know everyone is in the same boat but our best lap was like a rerun and we were never able to do a long run so it’s a little gray on how we will be for Sunday (in the race).  We lost some downforce compared to last year and the tires have quite a good drop off, or degradation, so after you use them the first or second timed lap, the tires are losing a lot of grip. It’s not a huge amount, we’re talking about a small amount, but it’s enough to make a difference. We are trying a different kind of philosophy in terms of the mechanical setup, trying to match the balance and grip level of where we were last year so that’s why everyone is trying different things. Some people struggle, some people find a happy place.”

  • FAST FACTS: Will be his ninth race here.  His highest start here is sixth in 2010 with KVRT and highest finish is ninth in 2017 with Andretti Autosport which are both his only top-10 starts or finishes here.  It will be his second time to compete with RLL here.  In 2012 he qualified 16th but retired due to mechanical failure in 24th place. The team tested at BMP February 20 and March 20.  The February test took place under mild conditions while rained ended the March test early… Has TWO IndyCar Series wins (2013 – Long Beach street course, 2017 – Indy 500 oval) and SEVEN poles (2011 Iowa oval, Edmonton street; 2013 Houston Race 1 street; 2014 St. Pete street, Detroit Race 2 street; 2017 Detroit Race 2, Pocono oval).  He is currently ranked 12th in series point standings with 37 points.

RLL AT BARBER: The 2018 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will mark the seventh IndyCar Series race for the team at Barber Motorsports Park (BMP).  The best finishes for the team came in 2015 and 2016 where RLL and Graham Rahal played a major role in the most exciting races of those seasons and earned second place finishes each year.  In addition to Rahal, other drivers to have competed for the team here include Takuma Sato (2012) James Jakes (2013) and Oriol Servia (2014).  In 2012, Sato set the third fastest time in Friday’s first practice and was fastest in the wet second session but traffic limited his qualifying performance to 16th.  In the race he passed four cars for 12th place on red alternate tires but struggled on primary tires and ultimately retired in 24th place due to mechanical failure after 52/90 laps.

NEXT UP:  Final practice will take place tomorrow from 10:50 – 11:35 a.m. CT and qualifying will be 3:05-4:20 PM CT. CNBC will broadcast qualifying beginning at 4 PM ET.  The Honda Grand Prix of Alabama will be televised live on NBCSN from 3:00-6:00 PM ET Sunday, April 22.