When my older sister learned that my mom was pregnant was me, she wasn’t happy. The next morning, she asked my Dad if I’d have his hair, and then cried because that meant I’d “be bald”. It ended well; she would sit and watch me sleep when I was a baby so she did adjust to not being the only child. Graham Rahal has to readjust to not being the only child again. Sure, he’s had teammates, but since 2015 he’s not had someone else on a team with him – plus his name is on the team so it is like Mom and Dad coming home with a new baby that you have to share all your toys with.
I never know how to feel about Graham as a driver. It’s like he’s the Cheerios of drivers. He’s generally okay, not spectacular like Lucky Charms, but not horrible like Shredded Wheat (the non-frosted kind). He’s just there. He didn’t have a bad showing in 2017, he pulled off back-to-back wins in Detroit which really is a great statistic for him. He got a podium finish in mid-Ohio, and then he had seven other top ten finishes. He ended 2017 in 6th place, after all the Penske’s and Scott.
Looking into 2018 for Graham, it’s going to be the season where I think he’s either going to do very well…or it’s going to come crashing down around him. Putting aside the whole new teammate thing (which I’ll discuss in a moment) he’s also working with the Penske Sports Car program, at least with the Daytona 24 (9th place) and the Sebring 12 hours. That’s more car time, but it’s a different type of car and a completely different type of race. Strategy for an endurance race is not going to be a similar strategy for an IndyCar race. He’s in the same car as Helio, so maybe something will rub off. Back to the bigger change in Graham’s life – he has a teammate. A teammate can be a great thing, someone to share data with, someone to debrief with, a partner there out on the track. However, I’m reminded of Fernando Alonso’s quote in the documentary “Grand Prix Driver” where he says something like a teammate maybe your best friend but also your worst enemy. Graham has Takuma Sato – the 2017 Indy 500 winner.
Anything written about Takuma Sato has to start with “2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato”. It was a big win and it was quite literally a dash to the end of that race, Helio was right there itching to win his fourth. Takuma won, and so it’s his face on the Borg-Warner and his face on the ticket . Outside of the Indy 500, in 2017 Takuma ended with five top-ten finishes and an overall position of 8th in the standings. I sort of expected better from a seasoned winner of the Indy 500. I think switching back to a smaller team is going to be good for Takuma. He’s actually going back home, as he’s been with RLL in 2012. He was on smaller teams before he switched to Andretti Autosport. I think, and I will say this out loud without any hesitation: it’s hard to stand out at Andretti Autosport. I think they expect a lot from their drivers, and while Takuma had a great win with the 500 – he didn’t have a stellar 2017 showing and I would wager going into 2018 he wasn’t going to get the dedicated service that he’s going to with the small RLL shop in 2018.
I think like Penske, there is going to be some growing pains with RLL. Graham has to adjust to a new teammate, and Takuma has to adjust to a smaller team. What they aren’t going to struggle with is sponsors, they have cleaned UP in the sponsor game.
Catch up on the other teams here: Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, Carlin Racing, Harding Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, Michael Shank Racing, Dale Coyne Racing