Joy and pain for Rahal Letterman Lanigan aces in Portland

Graham Rahal described his fifth place at Portland as “like a win” but Christian Lundgaard was left mortified after finishing outside the Top 20 having run second in the opening stint.

Lundgaard was the closest opposition to the Penske-Chevrolet trio in qualifying, and with Josef Newgarden’s early engine-change penalty dropping him to eighth on the grid, the #30 RLL car started third.

Lundgaard drafted behind Scott McLaughlin and Will Power down to Turn 1 on the opening lap, and when the latter flicked to the outside to take the racing line, Lundgaard stayed on the inside, entering Turn 1 and Turn 2 wheel-to-wheel with the championship leader, and carrying more momentum so that he grabbed second place exiting Turn 3.

There he would remain for the opening stint, with Power in close attendance, but when Lundgaard pitted for the first time, a slight refueling issue and strong out-laps from the Penske driver after his stop meant the RLL driver slipped to third. There he remained, but towards the end of the stint he dropped back from the top two as his car appeared harder on scrubbed Firestone alternates. Switching to scrubbed primaries for his third stint meant Lundgaard was easily passed by Pato O’Ward and then Newgarden, but he appeared to be set for a top-five finish.

However, stalling as he left his pitbox for a third time dropped him to 10th, and while he climbed to eighth, trying to pass Alexander Rossi for seventh caused him to outbrake himself at Turn 1, slide into the runoff where he collected an advertising banner. That obliged Lundgaard to run a slow lap to the pits to have the offending item removed, and dropped him to 21st place.

So although his Rookie of the Year rival David Malukas had a poor day too, finishing 14th, Lundgaard saw the gap between them reduce from 11 points to five.

“It was not the end that we wanted obviously,” he said. “The start was good with taking second place and the overall pace was good but we will learn from our other challenges and move on.”

By contrast, Graham Rahal was very positive about his climb from 11th to fifth, despite not quite snatching fourth from O’Ward’s damaged car in the closing stages.

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

“A top-five is like a win for us today,” said Rahal who has seen the RLL team coming to the fore in the second half of the season. “I would have loved to get Pato there at the end and thought we had the pace to do so. I had been setting him up for about 15 laps prior to get it done so to not do it, I’m a little salty.

“But the guys did a wonderful job in the pits. I’m really proud of everyone at Honda, everyone at RLL for keeping their heads down and getting us here. And really proud to represent United Rentals. We raised a lot more money for Turns for Troops so thank you so much to them for all of their support. The list goes on.

“For Total, we’ve had good success with this car. We’ve had a fast car here in Portland and hopefully next year we can come back and get a win.”

The third RLL car of Jack Harvey had a more subdued weekend, starting 17th and finishing 15th.

“We’re just lacking a little bit of speed right now and we’re trying to figure out why it’s not quite gelling,” said Harvey. “I’m not sure what it is but I think we are making progress. It’s subtle and not as quick and as much as I would like.

“The positive part of today is the pit stops were very good, so I have to say thanks to the guys on pit lane for that.

“Obviously, it’s getting towards the business end of the championship now and I just want to go to Laguna Seca and try and get the best finish we can and hopefully have our best finish of the year.”

Jack Harvey, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Jack Harvey, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

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