Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
The cast: Race engineer – Eddie Jones. Race strategist – Ricardo Nault. Chief mechanic – Donny Stewart.
Twitter: @grahamrahal, @RLLracing
The car: No. 15 Honda (Steak ‘n Shake, Rousseau Metal, MiJack among primary sponsors)
The driver: Turned 26 on Jan. 4. … From New Albany, Ohio, and resides near the team headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind. … Engaged to be married this fall to Courtney Force, a race-winning NHRA driver.
Season finish: Placed career-high fourth in Verizon IndyCar Series standings – an improvement of 15 positions over 2014 – in third season with the team co-owned by his father, Bobby, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan. … It was the highest team finish since 2004, when Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice placed third (behind Dan Wheldon and champion Tony Kanaan).
Season stats: Rahal recorded victories at Auto Club Speedway (after starting 19th) and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (after starting 13th), which were his first Indy car wins since April 2008 at St. Petersburg, Fla. … He added podium finishes at Barber Motorsports Park, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Belle Isle-2 and The Milwaukee Mile. … Had four-race streak of top-four finishes in second half of season, which vaulted him to second in the championship. … Average finish on five street courses was 11.4; average finish on five road course was 6.2; average finish on six ovals was 8.0. … Led career-high six races for total of 76 laps. … Was running at the finish in 14 of the 16 races and completed 2,077 of the 2,232 total laps.
Year over year: 2015 best qualifying fifth at Belle Isle-2 and Pocono Raceway (11.0 average), best finish of first at Auto Club Speedway and Mid-Ohio (8.5 average). 2014 best qualifying fourth (14.4 average), best finish second (15.0 average).
The gist: The precipitous gains by the driver and team caught many by surprise. The No. 15 car regularly led the Honda engine/aerodynamic bodywork contingent. Contact at the penultimate round of the championship at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway oval – after Rahal tied his season best by qualifying fifth – and 18th place after qualifying sixth (his lone appearance in the Firestone Fast Six) at Sonoma clipped his title aspirations. Expectations will be considerably higher for the 2016 season internally and externally. … The team participated in a team/Honda aero development test at Road America, which will host an Indy car race in June 2016 after a seven-year absence. Rahal finished third in the 2007 Champ Car race on the 4.048-mile, 14-turn circuit in Wisconsin.
The chart (below): Looking at how Rahal finished relative to his qualifying position in the 16 races: