Graham Rahal best in 2-class IndyCar Series "The 2009 season was both an up and down one for both myself and the McDonald's Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing crew.
"We started with two extreme highs in St. Petersburg and then shortly after in Kansas by getting poles in both places, but what we quickly learned was starting up front was the easy part. It seemed as though through only the first few races that we knew our luck would challenge us through the entire season, which became oh so true.
"In St. Pete, we got hit from behind at the very start. Perhaps this was slightly my fault as I was very careful due to the fact it was my first pole in my IndyCar Series career and I didn't want to screw it up. Well, when Tony Kanaan hit me, I quickly realized maybe I was too cautious. We struggled for the remainder of that day, but again our luck would strike us in Long Beach. We ran a fantastic race, staying out of trouble, running fast laps, saving fuel, and found ourselves in second place with only 20 or so laps to go. Well what happens then -- a freak incident where I got waived out of the pits too early and pulled the fuel tank with me.
"This is something that our team hasn't seen in years, and hopefully will never see again. But as mentioned before, you can see luck would challenge us all along.
"I don't need to bore you with race-by-race stats, but everyone knows that NHLR had lots of ups and lots of downs this year. I am, and was, very proud of my guys for all their effort this season, and especially over the 2008-09 inter when we made most of our strides.
"During the off-season, the team hired Martin Pare as my race engineer. He came from Andretti Green Racing and he had a wealth of experience in this series. I think we can give him credit for a lot of the gains we made, but as a team we did a great job adapting to the new rules package, and updating our cars to reach the maximum performance for our experience level. Few people realize this but our team did not enter into a single test this season. We ran off a more limited budget and I think when people take that into consideration, what we accomplished is even more impressive.
"We came to every race weekend flying blind in some sort of manor, and after a lot of hard work we always seemed to do alright. I think when you do look at the stats we qualified outside the top 10 only once - in Texas, and then our worst qualifying sessions other than that were when we were rained out in Iowa and Kentucky. That shows the strength of this team, and the efficiency in which we worked this season. Especially considering it was only our second one in this series.
"As the season went on and slowly came to a close, I think everyone could clearly see that the McDonald's car was always the best of class. And when I say best of class I'm speaking about non-Ganassi and Penske teams. We really had a lot of strong runs, and if I had limited my mistakes at both Mid-Ohio and Indy and if the driveshaft wouldn't have broken at Sonoma, we probably would have finished fifth if not better in the championship.
"I think for the entire team to at least say we ended on an upswing gives us a lot of high hopes and strong feelings toward the 2010 season. We remain very positive that with the crew, engineers, and ownership surrounding the NHLR group, that we as a team should expect a very strong and competitive championship fight in 2010.
"We have shown the speed and pace during qualifying and gradually made our race cars better. And now that we will have another off-season to test and prepare, we ought to be a contender on every race weekend. We did a great job closing the gap of five years to the Ganassi and Penske boys, and I think as the years roll on we are a team that can provide them with some major headaches." Graham Rahal