Race Weekend Central

30 Years Later – History Repeating Itself for Rahal Team at Indy 500?

In 1993, Bobby Rahal tried in vain to make the field for the Indianapolis 500. He was coming off his first year as a driver/team owner, winning the 1992 IndyCar championship off a four-win season and a 6th place finish at the Indy 500.

But when he returned to Indianapolis, he brought an in-house chassis that didn’t have speed. After a month of trying, his Rahal-Hogan cars of his and teammate Mike Groff couldn’t stick in the field. Both missed the race.

A similar scenario is unfolding for his IndyCar team at the 2023 Indianapolis 500.

After a non-stop day of qualifying around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s two and half miles, three of the four Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) cars are on the outside looking in. All four cars driven by Graham Rahal, Jack Harvey, Christian Lundgaard and Katherine Legge, in an Indy-only entry, went out attempting to get above the 30th position and the cutoff for the Last Row Qualifier. Legge, whose initial run was good enough to keep her safely in the field as the day went on, was the only one who had success. In total, the team made 11 attempts – Rahal (four), Harvey (three), and Lundgaard (four) – to improve their times. Lundgaard got into a bumping match with David Malukas, and eventually lost out as the Dale Coyne driver found considerable speed on his last run in Happy Hour.

The positive news is only one entry is at risk of missing the race, as there are three spots up for grabs in the Last Row Qualifier and four cars vying to take them. Still, it’s not a great situation for a team fielding three full-time entries in the NTT IndyCar season to possibly have one of them missing the biggest race of the season.

“It’s going to be quite interesting, with three of us in there,” Lundgaard told NBC. “But it’s very disappointing, seeing David [Malukas] there finding at least a mile an hour pace, we simply just can’t do that. And we haven’t been able to do that all week.”

Out of the four cars, Rahal has had the most trouble getting the balance right to his liking and never mustered an attempt over 230 mph.

“We got to get balance obviously right now, it’s just weird,” Rahal said after his second run. “The balance we had yesterday with similar wind, but in different direction, was completely the opposite. Same car and no changes. I don’t really know what to say.”

This isn’t an uncommon situation at Indianapolis – for a whole team to struggle. In 2011, Andretti Autosport had five cars entered, and two of them, driven by full-time driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, and the part-time entry for Mike Conway, missed the race. A deal later done between Andretti and AJ Foyt Enterprises got Hunter-Reay into the race, replacing Bruno Junqueira. Andretti’s other three cars also had trouble finding speed and placed no higher than 21st.

See also
2023 Indianapolis 500 Saturday Qualifying Live Report

Last year, RLLR put two of their three cars on the last row, but only 33 cars were entered, so there was no threat of bumping. The team did make internal staffing changes in the off-season looking to improve on their qualifying pace. Unfortunately, they’ve still struggled most of the year. Between Rahal, Harvey, and Lundgaard, they have four top-10 starts out of 15 opportunities. And now at Indianapolis their cars are going to start no better than 30th on the grid next Sunday.

As a sleepless night approaches the RLLR team, they will be trying to figure out what is ailing their machines and work to get their three cars on the last row for the Indy 500.

Qualifications for the NTT IndyCar Series 107th Indianapolis 500 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway continue tomorrow, Sunday May 21, at 4 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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