Family Affair: Rahal Emerging As Honda’s Go-To Guy

Graham Rahal on pit lane prior to the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher]

Graham Rahal on pit lane prior to the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher]


by Allan Brewer

Indianapolis—Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal recorded his second consecutive runner-up finish on Saturday in the INDYCAR Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

As he did at Barber Motorsports Park one week before, Rahal circulated the road-course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without incident until the last twenty laps—then he turned it on to close on eventual winner Will Power in the closing minutes of the race.

Graham Rahal practices for the 2015 Indianapolis 500.  [Russ Lake Photo]

Graham Rahal practices for the 2015 Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

On paper, Rahal should add up to a minor player in the 2015 INDYCAR season.

He drives a Honda, decidedly short on speed against the Chevrolet competition, with a complicated aerodynamics package that has yet to reach its potential—disappointingly so enough that the manufacturer has retreated to the wind tunnel mid-season to tweak.

The schedule (up to now) is road- and street-course heavy, traditionally not the strength of American open-wheel racers.

His team is a single-car team, trying to sort their entry with only one set of data each weekend and facing the Team Penske, Andretti Motorsports and Ganassi Racing juggernauts in wheel-to-wheel battle.

Rahal had immediate success when he joined the INDYCAR series in 2008. He won pole at St. Petersburg in his first try, then won the race the following day.

Since then, though, it’s been a long dry spell for the New Albany, Ohio native. A top-five here, a fastest-lap there, but despite running a full schedule the trophy case remained stuck in neutral.

But he and RLLR are doing it now, with purpose and pride.

“I wanted so hard to win for the team,” Rahal said after his second podium finish in a row. “It’s not just the driver. It’s so much more to making the car go.”

In five races this year Chevrolet-powered teams crossed the finish line first four times. The only bright spot for the Honda contingent has been a sole win posted by James Hinchcliffe at NOLA Motorsports Park in the wet….and Graham Rahal.

It’s almost expected now: the red and black Steak ’N’ Shake Honda stalking the leader in the closing stages of the race, moving ever closer to contest the finish at the line.

“We’re carrying the flag for Honda right now, this little tiny team is battling toe-to-toe with Team Penske,” Rahal said. “I think we have come short of a win by a combined 3 seconds over the last two races.”

Rahal’s singular success has made him a contender for the series driving championship. He stands tied with Scott Dixon for fourth entering the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Explaining the secret to his team’s success, Rahal attributes the results to two things: engineering and luck.

“We had a couple of hard years, but I like the team we have assembled and we are getting stronger all the time,” he said. “The strength of our team is the engineering corps. To be where we are this year, it feels good.”

“We had some luck too,” he said after the race (which began with a crash in Turn 1 and collected five drivers before the first lap was turned). “I told my dad in the strategy meeting that I was going to keep left on the start. Sure enough it worked and I avoided (the accident). Next thing I knew I was in Turn 4 and there was Juan Pablo (Montoya) ahead of me.”

Of course, Graham has had a long and famous shadow to step out of: dad Bobby Rahal won the Indianapolis 500 in 1986 (in a rain-delayed event) as a driver and won again (as an owner) in 2004 with Buddy Rice behind the wheel.

Prior to this season, Bobby was a prominent fixture in the pits coaching his son. This year, how-ever, he has taken a more hands-off approach, often taking the races in from the grandstands with the fans.

“Dad tells me to pass a car and I’m out there at eleven/tenths already…it’s easier when he’s not saying those things,” Graham confided in the post-race press conference. “But it seems like things are working smoothly now.”

On the horizon is the Indianapolis 500 again, a race that the Rahal family reveres most above all others.

Will this be the year that the son comes full even with the father?

“I finished third in the 500 before, so I have been close,” Graham said. “We haven’t had the best oval cars, but hopefully we can fix that. The 500 is what counts. It’s our focus the rest of the way.”



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