Rahal Team Tops IndyCar Open Test

ISM Raceway host of the Verizon IndyCar Series preseason test. [credit Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

ISM Raceway host of the Verizon IndyCar Series preseason test. [credit Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing made some noise at ISM Raceway in Arizona during the Verizon IndyCar Series preseason open test topping both practice sessions on opening day and announcing a new sponsor for Graham Rahal.

A contingent of 23 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers got some needed track time as they got used to the new 2018 Indy car on the one mile oval near Phoenix, AZ.

The opening session was led by new RLL driver, Takuma Sato. The Indy 500 champion led the afternoon practice with a lap of 187.022 mph (19.6726 seconds) in the No. 30 RLL Honda.  Simon Pagenaud was second quick in his Team Penske Chevrolet.  New AJ Foyt Racing pilots Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist were third and fourth quick in their Chevrolets.  Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top five fastest drivers in his Chevrolet.

“I was happy to get back behind the wheel,” Sato said. “This is our first oval test with the team. It wasn’t flawless because we had some electrical issues again, but the engineers deal with it very well. Once we get going, I think we were very comfortable.”

In the night time practice, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing drivers shined with Graham Rahal setting the quickest lap followed by teammate Sato, just .0026 seconds behind.  Pagenaud remained quick with the third fastest lap and teammate Josef Newgarden, the defending series champion, in fourth.  Kanaan again was in the top five with the fifth quickest lap.

“Overall, a lot of positives to be taken out of today’s session. We’re good, and Takuma (Sato) is right behind us,” explained Rahal. “My sense is what’s good is that I’m ultimately not super happy, ideally, with the car. The car has pace. Both cars have pace, and so that’s awesome. We haven’t had a lot of luck here the last few years, we’re used to coming here and getting our butts kicked.  To be able to come here and be competitive with this aero kit is awesome. It’s the most fun I have had on a short oval in years.”

Leist was the top rookie in both practices as he gets ready for the season in the Verizon IndyCar Series after running in Indy Lights last season.

“The car is great,” said Leist. “The first practice we were fast. We have been working mainly on my side just for me to feel comfortable in the car, get laps down. I’m really happy with the performance of the whole team and with myself as well.  I’m happy with everything and I think we’re going the right way, and hopefully we’ll have a great day tomorrow.”

Behind the scenes, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced an new sponsor for Graham Rahal’s Honda to adorn the car at the Phoenix and Portland races this coming season.  One Cure is the new sponsor, an initiative founded on the principle that cancer affects all creatures and that treatment breakthroughs come through collaboration between scientists and doctors working with people and animals.

“One Cure is a group we’re very proud and excited to be associated with. This is something, we talk about raising awareness for cancer research, but this is certainly something we can all relate to,” said Rahal.  “I don’t think people recognize, and I didn’t know this until we started talking, 85% of the genetic makeup of dogs is identical to those in humans. In many cases, the cancer cells, correct me if I’m wrong, is identical to what is found in human beings. The cures can relate to one another in many, many ways. You can go to and learn a lot more about what’s going on here at Colorado State University, at the Flint Animal Care Center. But it’s really impressive.”

The second day of the open test follows the same schedule as Friday, with practice set for 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET Saturday. Both sessions stream live on ISM Raceway is opening the track free to fans for Prix View Day, with a driver autograph session held between the practices.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season consists of 17 races and opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The Phoenix Grand Prix takes place April 7 at ISM Raceway (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

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