Race Weekend Central

Graham Rahal Survives Bump Day Drama to Start 33rd in 2024 Indianapolis 500

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — For the second year in a row at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Graham Rahal had to endure the Last Row Qualifying session to secure his spot in the Indianapolis 500.

This time, however, Rahal survived being on the bubble and the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda will start last in the 33-car field for the 108th edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on Sunday, May 26.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Rahal said after narrowly escaping a second consecutive elimination from the 500 field. “Probably not between today and tomorrow, but tomorrow and Carb Day to understand what’s gone wrong and why, and what componentry has really begun to fail for our car. And I think once we do that we’ll have a better understanding of where we go from here.”

Four drivers competed in Sunday afternoon’s hour-long session for a chance at the final three starting positions. Each driver had one guaranteed qualifying attempt in the session and whichever driver had the slowest average speed over their four lap attempt would not qualify for the race.

Indianapolis 500 qualifying speeds are determined from the average speed over a four-lap run totaling 10 miles.

Rahal was the last driver to start his qualifying attempt after Nolan Siegel, Marcus Ericsson and Katherine Legge made their guaranteed attempts. The Ohio native turned laps of 230.396 mph, 229.998 mph, 229.833 mph and 229.669 mph for an average speed of 229.974 mph.

Rahal’s run put him 32nd, bumping Ericsson from the field. The 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner had mistakenly backed out of the throttle at the start of his final lap of his first attempt and a final lap of 195.411 mph dropped the Swede’s qualifying average to 220.702 mph after having turned three laps over 230 mph.

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Near the end of the session, Ericsson bumped Siegel from the field with a qualifying average of 230.027 mph, putting Rahal on the bubble. Siegel and his Dale Coyne Racing crew made one more run to get the California native into the starting field as the final minutes counted down.

However, the 19-year-old lightly hit the wall exiting turn 1 on his second lap and spun the No. 18 Honda, hitting the turn 2 wall and ending the rookie’s chances.

While Rahal survived the Last Chance session, the process of getting to that session was a nightmare in and of itself.

Callum Ilott bumped Rahal from the top 30 positions in Saturday’s qualifying. The first day’s procedures locked in the top 30 positions at 5:50 p.m. and Rahal had several unsuccessful attempts trying to get back into the field.

What followed was a late night in the garage area that included changing out rear uprights and installing a road course-prepared gearbox in the hopes that that would alleviate the car’s woes.

In the Sunday afternoon practice session dedicated to the last chance qualifiers, there were more issues ahead as the session progressed. On the second lap of his initial qualifying simulation, Rahal complained about the gearbox as he drove down the backstretch.

“Yeah, it’s just not pulling the gears at all,” an exasperated Rahal said.

Rahal brought the car to pit road after giving additional feedback over the radio to his timing stand on pit road.

On his second qualifying simulation of the practice session, Rahal abandoned the attempt on the third lap, claiming something was broken on the right rear corner of the car.

Rahal and several mechanics went to the right rear wheel on the car and found the issue but didn’t identify the issue when pressed by NBC’s Marty Snider on pit road.

NBC’s cameras picked up the conversation Rahal was having on pit road after feeling the right rear wheel. The wheel nut was loose, not properly securing the wheel on the car.

However, Rahal did identify another issue that plagued the car’s handling.

“We think we found some issues with the lasers on the car, Rahal said. “And I think they’re mis-reading and we just discovered it now and I think that’s put us out of a zone that’s just really inefficient.”

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Rahal elaborated that IndyCar teams use lasers to determine the car’s ride height as it goes down the track and the mechanics changed the car’s handling after finding out their readings were incorrect.

Those readings might help explain why the car’s mechanical drag coefficient was getting worse since Thursday, as Rahal said during his interview on pit road.

With all of the issues the team faced, it feels like a minor miracle that Rahal was able to qualify for the race. However, there is still time for the team to figure out what issue has been plaguing the No. 15 machine.

And the team has until 12:45 ET on Sunday, May 26th to do just that.

About the author


Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.

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