Graham Rahal is already reaping the rewards of having Tom German onboard and the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series hasn’t officially started yet.
German joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in early December as an engineering consultant after working last season at Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian with Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Prior stops for German included Patrick Racing and more than a decade with series juggernaut Team Penske, where he eventually moved into the team’s top technical positions for its INDYCAR and NASCAR programs.
Rahal said the struggle for resources a single-car team faces compared to bigger teams has put more emphasis at Rahal Letterman Lanigan on finding the right people to keep the team competitive. Predominantly a one-car operation, RLL has been Honda’s torch bearer the past two seasons, with Rahal finishing fourth in the 2015 championship and fifth last year.
It wasn’t all that surprising when the driver of the No. 15 Honda expressed his excitement over the offseason addition of German.
“I think Tom is a guy who was at Penske for 10-plus years and obviously was with Rossi last year, amongst others,” said Rahal, entering his 11th Indy car season at the ripe old age of 28. “The biggest thing with Tom is to come in and implement some of the processes that, say, a Penske does in areas that we aren't that strong.”
A four-time race winner, Rahal provided an example of how German has already enhanced the team.
“Even areas actually that we thought we were (strong), then he came in and looked and mentioned a whole bunch of stuff (to change),” Rahal said during the Feb. 10-11 open test at Phoenix Raceway. “For instance, we've struggled with our car with massive tire vibrations the last couple of years – like it killed me at Iowa last year. I had no hope.
“And already he's cured that in this test with ideas and knowledge that he brought from Penske over the years. There's stuff like that that we were just struggling hard with, and Tom has brought a wealth of knowledge. Overall it's just another addition to our great core of engineering and people and mechanics and everybody.”
While German did join RLL as the engineering consultant, the same successful group surrounds Rahal. Eddie Jones returns as his race engineer and Ricardo “Rico” Nault continues to call race strategy from the pit stand.
After guiding Rossi to the surprising Indianapolis 500 win a year ago, Rahal believes German will also have a positive effect in the 101st running this May. Rahal admitted his team went astray early on last year and could never recover, finishing 14th at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“We really messed up on some aerodynamic testing that we did before (May),” said Rahal, whose best Indy 500 finish in nine tries has been third in 2011. “We only did one day of wind tunnel testing and it completely fooled us, and that's what happened to us at Indy. We just reacted to this one day and the data points weren't even correct, and it literally ruined our entire month.
“We were an outlier for the Honda camp by far, as far as our aerodynamic settings. We shot ourselves in the foot and so we just kind of have to reset. Tom will help us do that.”
Rahal and nearly the entire Verizon IndyCar Series field will conduct private team testing next week on Sebring International Raceway’s road course. It will be the final track time they have prior to the 2017 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from March 10-12. The 100-lap race on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit airs live at noon ET March 12 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.