AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s a trend he used to maximum effectiveness for a Verizon IndyCar Series championship bid in 2015, and Graham Rahal is at it again in 2016.
The driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda climbed the most positions of any driver in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix on April 2. The 27-year-old Ohioan advanced 14 spots from start to finish of the 250-lap race at Phoenix International Raceway, taking the checkered flag in fifth.
“It was tough, for sure,” Rahal said. “In all honesty, the key was when I was stuck in traffic, I was doing everything I could to save fuel and others weren’t. I could see guys burning fuel in front of me, I could hear it. I was trying to do everything I could to dial back the knobs, lift (off the throttle) a little bit early, save some fuel and catch a yellow – and we did.”
Five times last season, Rahal managed top-five finishes after starting a race 13th or lower on the grid – including both of his race wins when he came from 19th to win at Auto Club Speedway and 13th to Victory Lane at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It put him in contention for the championship until an 18th-place finish in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway settled Rahal into fourth in the final standings – a career best.
Rahal again gave full credit to his crew for setting up his car well and for lightning-quick execution in the pits.
“The pit stops were amazing, as always,” he said. “I said it from the start that I felt confident today because of those guys. Had I not had that crew and those pit stops behind me, I wouldn't have felt as good about this race going into it.”
Rahal was the highest-finishing Honda in the race, the only non-Chevrolet in the top nine. "I felt like I had a really good race car, but unfortunately our competition’s got about a 5 mph advantage on us, I feel like," he said. "I was doing just everything I could to try to get it.”
Coupled with a 16th-place finish in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to open the season, Rahal stands seventh in the championship after two of 16 Verizon IndyCar Series races. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud leads with 83 points. Rahal has earned 44 and is just 12 out of fourth position.
“Getting the points we did for fifth place (at Phoenix) helps us in the standings, for sure,” Rahal said. “We're going to keep challenging and pushing hard."
The next event on the schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, set for April 17 (4 p.m. ET, NBSCN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).