Following a decent season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Graham Rahal is ready to get back after it this year as he looks for more success. With the season a month away, preparation has been in full gear.
The teams were all set to race at Brazil next week, though that event was cancelled. While the race was something great for drivers and teams on the schedule, Rahal sees the cancellation as blessing as “the travel, the logistics for everybody were brutal”.
“On top of that, we were going to have to leave guys behind. We’re a single-car team. We were going to have to leave guys behind to prep a car, prep bodywork for when we came back,” he added. “Basically if we had gotten back the 8th or 9th, whatever day it was going to be, our first day of the aero kit was the 14th, 16th, 17th, then four days later to Sebring, then right into St. Pete two days after that.
“I think the guys have just been absolutely drained to try to manage all of that. It’s a shame that we lost it. Nobody ever likes that. But I think it’s a blessing in disguise for the people that actually make this thing happen. Look, I mean, the aero kits, obviously most have not seen them. It’s going to be extensive. I’m sure the body fits and everything else is going to take a lot of work, a lot of time. We all know how important that is to what we do. Not that I plan on using them, but spares and things like that, that’s going to be pretty limited. We have to make sure we’re on top of our game.”
Rahal added that getting the aero kits to fit just right, espically for the ovals, is going to be important as any gap in the body will take away from the ever-important downforce. Rahal says making sure there’s as least drag as possible is important as they won’t be able to get the wind tunnel time that top-teams like Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing are able to.
“We only have one car to go off of data. They’re going to have two, against the Penskes that have four, the wind tunnels,” Rahal commented. “It’s going to be extremely important that we cover all those fine little details. When we come back here, who knows what we’re going to get. If we can cover the details like a body fit, find a few pounds of drag, that’s going to help us down the road.
“It’s never plug and play. I wish it were. You should see some of the gaps on the bodywork. It’s pretty bad.”
The easy fix to being able to find have more data and wind tunnel time would be for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to add a second car to their outfit. However, Rahal says they’re being cautious abut doing that and perhaps disrupting the flow that they currently have within the team with the single car effort.
“We don’t have the finances together to run a second car yet. We have had a lot of people come to us about it,” he added. “But I think for us to have one team that works extremely well, together with the engineering staff that we have, all the damper work, everything else that we’re doing, we’ll be fine. Sure, it’s going to put a little extra load on our backs. It is a little more difficult at times.”
The new year brings change for Rahal as Eddie Jones will take the reigns of the RLL team, which Rahal feels is a “nice change”. RLL also added Martin Pare to do their damper work, as well as Mike Talbott.
“There’s a lot of new faces to our program, but guys that have all been together before, personalities that work extremely well together. We’ve seen already in the first couple tests of the year there’s been a lot of progress made,” Rahal commented. “Of course, with the aero kits and everything, a few things (will be) thrown at us here in the coming weeks. We felt pretty good where we were at earlier last week. I think at the end of the day, the team, we learned a lot of lessons last year, hasn’t been an easy last couple of seasons, but already the signs are pointing to a lot of progress and exciting days ahead.
“I’m kind of ready to get racing. Being here is nice, but being around the guys is a tease. You want to get out and get running, see what we can do. I think it’s about a month before we hit the track again. That’s kind of weird.”
There is also the opportunity for co-owner David Letterman to around the tracks more this year as he is retiring from television.
“I think already with Dave’s retirement, he’s turned a bit more attention to the race team. I can tell you there’s a couple sponsor deals close to being done. He’s been very influential hosting people in his office in New York, which he hasn’t done before,” Rahal commented. “I can see his influence is starting to take over a little bit. I hope he’s going to be around a little bit more.
“In particular, IndyCar racing, this track, this race, is what Dave’s passionate about. But all signs point in the direction that he’s going to be much more involved, hopefully take more of a Paul Newman role, as Paul Newman did for all those years, have a greater influence. At the end of the day, he’s a big powerhouse when it comes to celebrities, period, but people in this country, somebody who is going to be hugely influential. We need him to be involved and to really work with all the personalities that this team has, my dad and Lanigan in particular.”
Rahal is hoping all the changes lead to victories in the upcoming season, something that he hasn’t been able to experience since his first win in 2008. Many people have commented that there’s a lot of pressure on Rahal to perform with being a second generation driver, but he says it doesn’t bug him anymore as he has “learned to ignore everybody and everything they say”. The performance was there last year for victories, with Rahal competing up front throughout the season at times. The key per the driver, though, is they have to qualify better. Rahal had an average starting spot of 14.4 for last season.
“When I look at like a lot of races this year, the amount of effort it took to get to the front, we had a lot of other issues, myself included, mistakes we made like Houston. But the amount of effort it takes to get to the front, if you started there, it would be a heck of a lot easier to maintain that,” he commented. “We haven’t done a very good job at that. As I look forward, I mean, I think there’s opportunities to win ahead of us. I’m only 26 years old. I know I haven’t won a lot of races. I don’t really plan on going anywhere anytime soon. I think those times will come.”
Rahal feels that being young still, he has enough time to get it done and compares it to 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series Champion Ryan hunter-Reay.
“Early in his career he didn’t do anything at all,” Rahal said. “Then all of a sudden he left for a couple of years, came back to dad’s team in 2007 I believe it was. Next thing you know, he’s a champion, winning all the time. Everybody views him as one of the greats, which I think he is. Number one, great guy. Number two, hell of a driver.
“People probably looked at him and said, His career is over. It’s not going to happen. Next thing you know, here he is. We’re focused, as I said, very hard. We lost a couple years. We focused very hard on making sure we have a great opportunity ahead of us this year. We’ll see what happens beyond that.
“But if we didn’t win a race or we weren’t right up front, very competitive at every single race weekend this year, it would be pretty disappointing with all the effort we put in.”