All for the Gram: Rahal cars briefly idled after photo shoot
Indianapolis — Photogate spilled over to a second day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when all three of Bobby Rahal's cars were idled on pit lane at the start of Friday's practice as punishment for their ill-timed effort to take a team picture on the famed speedway.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars were parked for the first 30 minutes of practice on the day IndyCar allows a horsepower boost so teams can get a feel for their speed ahead of Indianapolis 500 qualifying this weekend.
The punishment was issued after defending race winner Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci attempted to go three cars wide across the frontstretch in the opening minute of Thursday's practice to stage a team photo. At the time, the track was open to all teams and caused Colton Herta to hit both the wall and the car of Scott McLaughlin as he frantically tried to slow from 220 mph to around 100 mph to avoid a collision.
“We should have made a formal request. I don’t think there’s any question of that,” Bobby Rahal acknowledged Friday. “I don’t think anybody is happy about what happened, least of all us, because that was certainly not the intention. Thankfully nobody really suffered damage in a major way, and in the end we were penalized. We’ll pay our penalty. We’ll take our medicine and go on.”
Rahal thought he was copying what Team Penske had done two days earlier when its four cars staged a photo as soon as the track opened. But the Penske shoot was during a scheduled five-minute period of non-competitive laps and is part of a longstanding team tradition for owner Roger Penske.
“What we did on the first day is something we’ve done every single year here, or we’ve at least attempted to,” said team president Tim Cindric. "It’s just a way to start May and something Roger has always taken a lot of pride in.
“And if we get the opportunity, then we come across the line as a team. And if we don’t get the opportunity, we call it off. For us it’s always been an awareness situation. But it’s always been the first session, the first time, and we’ve never had a problem.”
Even with the penalty, the Rahal cars were still allotted more than five hours of practice time ahead of the two-day qualifying process that begins Saturday and decides the pole-winner Sunday. The team was behind with Ferrucci, who crashed late Thursday and needed significant repairs to his car.
“We were fortunate the tub was OK, the gearbox was OK, engine was OK. Certainly the left side of the car was gone, but we were prepared,” Bobby Rahal said. "It was a late night, though. Some went home around midnight, some by 1:30, some 2:30. I think there were some people still here at 5 a.m.
“A great team effort getting the car done, and more than anything I’m pleased that Santino is OK.”
Ferrucci was evaluated at a local hospital and cleared Friday morning by IndyCar to compete. He wore a leg brace over his firesuit.
As the competition hit the track, the Rahal cars waited in their penalty box but drivers didn't worry about the lost time.
“I think there’s nothing that will hurt us, to be honest,” said Sato, the two-time and defending winner. “Maybe we have a little bit longer lunchtime. But designing a good program, that’s what’s important.”
The Rahal organization is celebrating its 30th season in racing this year and earlier this week broke ground on a new 100,000 square-foot headquarters in nearby Zionsville. The shop is scheduled to open for next season and create more than 70 jobs by 2024 after more than $20 million worth of investment.
RLL went first and third in last year's Indy 500 with Sato, and this season added Ferrucci to the lineup following his fourth-place finish a year ago. The team is still trying to celebrate Sato's victory — the 2020 race was held without spectators for the first time in 104 runnings — and the lack of pomp and circumstance cut into Sato's victory party.
The team owners purchased Indy 500 winner's rings for the entire organization, including the Rahal sports car program, and is still seeking a way to honor team partner Mike Lanigan. He's overlooked in the RLL operation because Rahal runs the day-to-day functions and David Letterman, well, he's the big personality.
Winning an Indy 500 was a bucket list item for Lanigan, who was led into team ownership by his late friend Walter Payton. Lanigan owns Walter Payton Power Equipment with Payton’s children and uses Suite 34 — Payton's number with the Chicago Bears — at the speedway.
“To see the elation in Mike last year was spectacular,” Graham Rahal said. “A guy that grew up selling cranes right down the street, dreaming someday he’d be involved. A self-made man, right? Same with Dave, self-made. But to get himself into a position where he could win the Indy 500 was great to see.”