Alongside Rahal: Building on strong finish for 2016

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First of three parts looking at the Verizon IndyCar Series season of Graham Rahal through the eyes of others. Today, race strategist and team manager Ricardo Nault.

Up front, Ricardo Nault acknowledges that his expectations of Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season weren’t overly lofty.

“Realistic,” he says, based on the recent past. “I told the guys before the season that I want to win at least one race and finish in the top 10 of the championship.”

Rahal, in his third season with the team co-owned by his father, Bobby, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan, won two races among six podium finishes and was a title contender entering the double-points finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Rahal’s fourth place in the standings was the team’s best since 2004, when Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice placed third, and the 26-year-old Ohio native’s highest finish in nine Indy car seasons totaling 144 races.

“The year exceeded my expectations. I thought we would be here next year and proud of work everybody’s done,” Nault adds.

The past two seasons, Rahal finished 18th and 19th in points. The turnaround was stark and like a springtime breeze through the paddock.

“From the beginning Graham has been motivated to overcome our finishing positions the last couple of years,” Nault says. “There’s not one thing you can point to and say, ‘This was it,’ just like there’s nothing you can point to this year and say, ‘This made it better.’ The synergy of the team is working really well. Everybody is trying to get the same things done in the same way, which makes all the difference in the world.

“A lot of people were pointing fingers at Graham saying that he can’t get it done. None of us believed that and we told him that it was just the situation that wasn’t right for him. Now it’s working a lot better and he knows we’re behind him. We had some luck along the way as well. It’s a little bit of karma coming back around. You need all of that – good car, good crew and some luck, too.”

Now Nault’s expectations will be raised for the 2016 season. The team has conducted one offseason test session at Road America, which returns to the schedule in June after a seven-year absence.

“It’s something we can build on,” Nault says. “The owners have given us the resources to go out and compete against the big boys and we try to use those resources wisely. We’ll keep on pushing to stay in the top level every year. I believe this is the start of being a top contending team year after year.”

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