At one point Sunday, the Verizon IndyCar Series championship seemed to be within Graham Rahal’s grasp. Then it was gone, lost in mechanical problems and a late-race shove by Sebastien Bourdais. Rahal ultimately finished fourth in the 2015 standings – the best result of his career, but one that was bittersweet as he faced the media after the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
“We found a bad day to be bad,” Rahal told reporters including IndyCar Examiner in his post-race press conference. “But that doesn’t overshadow the year we had. I think the year we had was phenomenal. We proved a lot of doubters wrong. We proved to people that we can contend, that this team belongs in the championship hunt, and we’ll be back next year.
“This is obviously not the way we wanted to go out, but all things considered, this year we did a tremendous job,” he continued. “I’m very proud of the team and thankful to [sponsors] Steak ‘n Shake, D-A Lubricant, Maxim and all the people that made this possible because they allowed us after the [National] Guard bolted late on us. I think everybody thought we might not be able to get this thing back together and get back racing, and here we are, so it’s been a pretty good year. Just already looking forward to 2016.”
While fans might have been shocked to see Rahal – who at one point was just nine markers shy of Montoya – drop from second to fourth by the end of the day, Rahal explained that the proverbial writing on the wall had been there for some time.
“Honestly the car hasn’t been good all weekend,” he said. “People look at me and say how is that? You’ve been right up at the front. Yeah, on new tires we’re able to get there. On new tires we’re able to put good lap times in. But we struggled all along to get the rear of the car right, and in our attempts to get the rear right, all we did was continuously hurt the front.
“Even in the race today, I mean, the rear tires were gone after not even a lap for me at times. Just couldn’t get them to work. I just could not get the tire to do anything. So unfortunately we were in a bind.”
He said he knew that he wouldn’t beat eventual race winner Scott Dixon, but knew he could prevail over Montoya and Will Power after the two Penske drivers made contact with one another, and hoped that would put him third in the championship. But the end result was a day he called “just brutal,” estimating that he was hit “five or six times” before Bourdais spun him around.
Rahal was caught on TV cameras having angry words for Bourdais on pit lane, and he was still critical during the press conference of a move that got the KVSH Racing driver a drive-through penalty for obvious avoidable contact.
“Bourdais unfortunately in recent times has made a lot of moves like that,” Rahal told reporters when asked about the incident. “I don’t know what kind of excuse he could possibly come up with, with hitting me in the rear, but I hit the brakes at the 200 mark. It was going to be impossible for him to stop had he gone inside of me, and even if he had gone outside, he wasn’t going anywhere, yet he clearly just wasn’t even looking. He was obviously just focused right on my gearbox and not where we were on the circuit, and he just drilled me, and around I went.
“He comes up to me [after the race] and said he doesn’t mean to, but unfortunately that cost us third in the championship. What do you say? Again, what do you say? I don’t know, man. It’s frustrating.”
He tempered his criticism with respect for Bourdais’ talents, just not his conduct on this particular day.
“I was his teammate. He was a tremendous driver then. He’s a tremendous driver now,” he continued. “There’s been a huge discussion about teammates this year, and was Bourdais a teammate like Justin Wilson? No, but he was a hell of a driver, and I respect him tremendously for who he is and what he’s accomplished. But on a day like today, he’s a guy you should have high expectations for, and when you see stuff like that, it’s pretty disappointing.”
Ultimately, whether first or fourth, Rahal reiterated that he’s not disappointed with a 2015 season in which he captured two much-needed race wins and the renewed attention of the racing community, proving that a single-car team can hang with the top organizations in IndyCar. Ironically, in a year in which much was made of how much he accomplished on his own, he said he’d be open to expanding to a two-car effort if the opportunity presented itself.
“This team needs a teammate, this team needs a second car that is cohesive with what we already have,” he said on Sunday. “We cannot have two separate teams. We need to make sure everybody is in the same frame of mind at all times, working together at all times, and I think that’s what will make it beneficial.”
Now it will be up to Rahal to build on his success come 2016, and hopefully continue to be a threat amongst the hugely competitive IndyCar landscape.
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