As the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season approached and began, it became clear that comfortable, fast car setups would be a prominent key to success with the debuting universal aero kit.

With downforce removed, the behavior of the car was expected to be placed more in drivers’ hands. But the idea that achieving a satisfying balance would start being a more important challenge was a near-last-minute revelation.

The Dallara IR-12 chassis that the Dallara DW12, manufacturer aero kit and now universal aero kit bodywork have been fitted to for the majority of the last decade of IndyCar racing has been a key continuation, but each passing aerodynamic package has turned the same car into a new car, invalidating careful notes kept throughout the paddock.

Unfortunately for American driver Graham Rahal, the setup he took to victory lane on back to back days at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park last year has proven to be a one-hit wonder.

“Our St. Pete setup was very similar to what we ran at Detroit and it just didn’t work,” Rahal said during a press conference in Long Beach. “It just didn’t work on this new car. I feel like we’re having to relearn quite a bit of things on our end from a team perspective, as well, and maybe for some guys it is working, I don’t know, but for us it’s been a little bit off.”

Graham Rahal flies around Long Beach in TOTAL Indy car
Graham Rahal was 11th fastest on the combined timesheet at the conclusion of the first day of the 2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend. | Photo: Joe Skibinski / INDYCAR

Rahal attributes much of his strong weekend in Detroit last year to inexplicable feelings, only some of which were sourced from the well-tuned setup.

“Our starting setup is the Detroit setup,” Rahal said when asked what can be learned from the car that won twice in the Motor City 10 months ago. “We’re trying. We’re giving it our best effort.

“Detroit last year was magic. You go through that weekend, and you guys know how competitive this series is, yet the worst we were all weekend was second on a time sheet. If you think about it from that perspective, that weekend was really just unusual.”

Graham Rahal apexes Turn 11 during Chevrolet Dual in Detroit practice
Graham Rahal dominated the lone doubleheader weekend on the IndyCar schedule in 2017. | Photo: Bret Kelley / INDYCAR

Though the aero kit is different and the Belle Isle circuit is a unique beast, Rahal believes some things from the June 2017 setup remain useful today. The most major factor is where the rubber meets the racetrack.

“I do think that there’s things that we can learn from that. Detroit is a bit of an anomaly because it’s so bumpy that your ride heights are in a completely different area than what you’d run anywhere else because you have to there, but hopefully there’s stuff that we can find out of that — stuff we can work on from that.

“I think the tires are a big trick this year. Obviously it’s a very similar tire to last year, yet the car has a lot less downforce — now how do you get the tire to work? You’ve got to work hard to make it work and then not have the huge degradation on the other side of it.”

Despite being disappointed in his history at the 1.968-mile Long Beach circuit, Rahal is hopeful that his team will strike the perfect balance with the No. 15 TOTAL Honda as IndyCar’s 2018 visit to Southern California unfolds.

“It’s just an enjoyable place to come, enjoyable place to race, and the people out here get it, they love it, they have fun with it, and like I said, hopefully we can win this thing this weekend. It would mean a lot to me.”

Since achieving his best career finish of second at Long Beach in 2013, Rahal’s average finish at the track has been 12.25. The Ohioan will attempt to end the four years of frustration in the LBC when Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach goes green at 1:42 p.m. PDT. Live television coverage will open at 4 p.m. EDT on NBCSN.

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