‘We weren’t good enough’: Rahal parses the emotions of failing to make the Indy 500


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Graham Rahal fought back tears as he tried to piece together the feeling of not qualifying for next week’s Indianapolis 500.

“We weren’t good enough,” said the 34-year-old, second-generation driver.

As Jack Harvey celebrated with his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew after his last-minute run in the Last Chance qualifying session put him in the field, Rahal hugged every member of his number 15 team – including his father Bobby. “We gave it what we had,” Rahal said to his crew before speaking with pit reporter Marty Snyder.

Rahal was sat in his car as the one-hour session had come to an end, sitting on the “bubble” with a four-lap average speed of 229.159 miles per hour.

“That’s the difficult part. You can’t do anything, you can’t run again. You’re kinda stuck there.” Harvey’s second run with ten minutes remaining in the session wasn’t enough to bump Rahal from the field, but his third and final run was – by 0.007 miles per hour.

“I’m surprised – I think with the heat soak and stuff, I’m really surprised,” remarked Rahal, who watched Harvey cool his car for several slow laps as the track otherwise sat vacant once everyone had made their first runs.

“Everybody puts a lot into this, we just came up short,” Rahal said, as the emotions within him began to boil over and the realisation of being excluded set in. “It doesn’t come easy. And it doesn’t just happen. And we weren’t good enough. We were the slowest of our cars just on pure pace all week. Unfortunately that happens.”

“But, you know, you’ve gotta be positive, you’ve gotta be humble and gracious, in victory and defeat. There’s next year.”

It had been a torrid week for the RLL team in the lead-up to time trials. “I knew from the start, we were in trouble,” Rahal said before turning away from the camera at last, the sadness too much to bear.

The elder Rahal was bumped from the field in 1993, months after he’d won his third IndyCar series championship. The Rahal/Hogan chassis, a rebadged evolution of the Truesports chassis, was taken on as a favour from Rahal to his late former car owner Jim Trueman – but it was too flimsy and inconsistent to qualify for the race. Rahal could not bump his team mate Kevin Cogan from the field and refused to “buy out” another qualified driver.

Now the younger Rahal, a six-time IndyCar race winner who’d hoped to make his 16th straight Indy 500 start, is on the outside looking in. He hasn’t won in the series since 2017 and his next win won’t come at the Indianapolis 500 next Sunday.

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It seemed unfathomable that Bobby could miss the race after winning a series championship, and in the context of some recent runs from the RLL team, it was strange to see Graham miss the cut. In 2021, he had a car fast enough to win the race and was willing to gamble on an alternate pit strategy. But a rear wheel wasn’t secured properly after a pit stop, which caused him to spin and crash on his out lap.

In 2020, Rahal matched his career-best Indy 500 result in third place, as team mate Takuma Sato won the race for the second time in four years. But last year, Rahal could only manage to qualify 21st while his team mates Lundgaard and Harvey were stuck on the final row – in a year where only 33 drivers attempted to qualify.

Harvey secured the final grid slot in the race
This time out, the RLL team had lost their way – as Katherine Legge, who hadn’t run in IndyCar since the 2013 Indy 500, was the only one in her team to qualify for the race on the first day – ahead of her three full-time team mates.

Harvey had secured his seventh straight Indy 500 start with a clutch performance, and arguably saved his IndyCar Series career. But any sort of celebratory mood was dampened – he made the race at the expense of a team mate and friend.

“It’s not a good feeling, to be honest with you,” Harvey said of bumping Rahal from the field. “It’s not a moment, necessarily, for celebration.

“For anyone who thinks we’re jumping up and down celebrating, is a little bit mistaken today.”

He was blunt in his assessment of where RLL stands now that they’ve simply gotten three of their four cars into the race. “As a team, we’re going to be starting 30th, 31st, and 33rd. Today felt like we were in the Hunger Games with our own team – of the four people driving, three of them were us. It’s not great odds – and it’s not a great feeling.

“It’s actually quite hard to process it. It’s a lot of emotions – massively grateful to be in the race, massively sad that we bumped out a team mate, because I know what that means for the entire team.

“I didn’t actually get to see any of the pole shootout,” Harvey added, gesturing to Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay, and Felix Rosenqvist seated next to him, “but when I look at the speed that they can do, we’re comfortably five miles per hour off. There’s an enormous amount of work to try and do in truth, and hopefully we’ve got a year to try and figure it out.”

Talking through his gruelling efforts to get into the race – 48 hours after a terminal engine failure on ‘Fast Friday’ and missing the top 30 cut on Saturday, Harvey said: “We’d done two attempts, neither of them seemed to be enough to get it done. Actually, on the final one, I said to the guys, ‘Do you even think we can do this?’ The car’s hot, engine’s hot…and they said, ‘yeah – we’ve gotta try, it’s the Indy 500!’ And from that moment I just tried to forget about everything else for a moment.”

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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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7 comments on “‘We weren’t good enough’: Rahal parses the emotions of failing to make the Indy 500”

  1. Sadly, he has gone the way of Marco. Both were tied to their father’s teams, with no easy way out (sponsors are tied to the lure of the famous surname). Its a sad situation because clearly it would do everyone good to just go their separate ways and move on with a clean sheet. It’s like a dysfunctional marriage really – maybe a divorce is the best outcome.

    I hope they bounce back but judging from the long, slow, downward trend of the last few years its not looking great.

    1. RLL just have major issues with their oval program (remember, they were on pole just a week ago for the Indy GP) and I don’t think it’s fair to single out Graham just because he happened to be the slowest of the bunch by a mere 44 thousands of a second over four laps.

      1. Sorry, make that 44 ten-thousandths of a second.

    2. Graham is a much better driver than Marco

  2. While this was obviously sad for Rahal, there is no denying the drama of the situation. The hour of bump qualifying was edge of the seat stuff.

  3. Rahal being bumped out of the indy 500 was no surprise to me, the car was woeful in first qualifying. Surprised it was so close between Harvey and Rahal, though

  4. Rahal is part of a bygone era in open wheel American Motorsport, too many professional talented international drivers are dominating the traditional American open wheel racing culture, Jimmie Johnson’s recent failure in Indycar is good example of this, international drivers will continue to dominate indycar..imo

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