Graham Rahal has been everywhere lately. Promoting his brand and the Verizon IndyCar Series on local radio and television in Southern California, flying around the blue skies of Arizona with the USAF Thunderbirds, winning the pit stop competition with his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew at the annual Thunder on Pine event this past Thursday in downtown Long Beach, and handling press conferences like a one-man-band.
If you’ve ever had a chance to speak with Graham Rahal or even just listen to him in interviews, you know off the bat that he lives, breathes, and bleeds IndyCar. His passion for the sport and the many aspects of it is apparent, even if he “just drives the thing” as he said yesterday. He might not be directly involved in the development of the engine or the chassis or the aero kit dynamics, but don’t doubt his level of education on all of the above and much more.
I don’t mean for this to piece to sound like a transcript as we go forward here, but Rahal’s comments on a couple items were so well-phrased and yet, entirely unscripted, that I wanted to share them in their entirety with you, the fans. I think you will appreciate what he had to say and maybe it will even open your eyes up to something you hadn’t considered. I know you all love learning as much about the sport you love as possible, I am the same way and I particularly enjoy getting to listen to their driver’s direct feedback when we have a chance to pick their brain.
So let’s get right into the thick of it… the point always at contention: aerokits and manufacturer development in general. Please note that this quote begins in the midst of his answer, and he was discussing how things were handled in the past and why there are certain things that shouldn’t change – for the betterment of the series and all invested teams.
“If a team goes out and they find an advantage, that’s fine, they have to release it on the system that we have so every other team can see the drawing, every other team knows what they’re doing. That’s the way it was 10 years ago, so that no small team was at a massive disadvantage. They could have the parts made, they could do what the wanted, and sure there’s a cost to that but I want to see development. I enjoy being part of that. So for me, I think it should be opened up a little bit and if a manufacturer wants to spend some money to close the gap… you better believe Honda doesn’t want to be beaten. We were already behind last year and I think they genuinely worked their you-know-what’s off in the offseason but now we’re in a position where we’re still behind and we can’t change anything so what do we do? And that’s what’s difficult. I’d prefer to just see allowed development. Let ‘em run whatever they wanna run. You don’t need to micromanage that. That’s my whole philosophy on all of this stuff.”
I also loved that he put the whole NASCAR commentary during the IndyCar race in Phoenix, in it’s place. I am sure I’m not the only one that was irritated by what I read from some of that series drivers a couple weeks ago.
“Driving through Turn 1 in Phoenix at 100 mph is a lot different than 180 mph. So when we talk about downforce, it’s not fair to compare NASCAR versus us (IndyCar) because the cornering speed capabilities are two different animals. I could slide this thing (current model Dallara DW12) at 100 and feel comfortable. You slide this thing at 180… you’re gonna need a new pair of underwear every corner. I mean seriously, you can not compare those. It’s frustrating seeing some of those guys comment (on social media) about what we’re doing. It’s not the same. Phoenix wasn’t a downforce issue. No one was flat until the end of the race. What would benefit (us) the most? Raise the horsepower, so when you lift and go back to power, the thing accelerates a lot harder. That would have created passing. The other thing would be to introduce Push-to-Pass if we could, which was a discussion that came up.”
Rahal was asked about his opinion on the development of the next generation car for 2017. He gave some of his opinions on what direction he thought things should go and then got quiet, reflected with an almost dreamy look in his eyes, and proceeded to wax poetically about a car that I know for certain, many of my friends and family drool over to this day,
“Maybe I’m just old-fashioned in that nobody will agree with me, but I’m the type of person that finds a Formula 1 car extremely ugly. I don’t think these things (DW12) are that pretty either. I don’t find LMP1 Prototype cars that attractive anymore. I like streamlined. I look back at the ‘93 Penske, the ‘92 Lola, even the first Champ Car I drove – the 2001 through 2006 Lola, I think – the thing was beautiful. It was so simple but gorgeous. And that’s what I just hope these (the next generation IndyCar) would look like.”
Rahal went on to be the third quickest car in the Friday afternoon practice – his time was third quickest of the day as well. The No. 15 PennGrade Motor Oil RLL Honda ran a fast lap of 1:07.8853 – one of only 5 cars to clock laps under 1:08 throughout the day. The other cars he shared that accomplishment with were three Penske Chevy’s (Power, Pagenaud, and Montoya) and another Honda, piloted by SPM driver James Hinchcliffe. That’s darn good company to keep.
Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place today, Saturday April 16 at 2:00 p.m. PT on the streets of Long Beach. NBCSN will broadcast the qualifying runs on a tape delay at 3:00 p.m PT/6:00 p.m. ET. If you prefer to watch it on livestream, here is all of that information.
Rahal’s best start here is P5. He has a podium here, with P2 being his best career finish on these Southern California streets. This weekend will be his tenth time contesting the circuit. Along with Hinchcliffe, I think Rahal will be a Honda to keep your eye on in qualifying. Jack Hawksworth in the No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing could also be up in the rankings – he had a solid run in Friday’s first practice as third quickest and the fastest Honda on the grid. Here’s hoping for a Firestone Fast 6 with even numbers Honda and Chevy. Let’s keep things exciting, Cali!