An interview with Graham Rahal
It's been an exciting last week for Graham, and he will appear tomorrow on the David Letterman Show, and then he'll be heading west to prep up for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Last year, as many of you recall, he actually qualified fifth here in Long Beach and finished eighth.
I know it's been an eventful last few days for you, Graham, and we appreciate you taking the time. And if I'm not mistaken, you are enjoying the sun in Columbus and on your way to a golf course?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, absolutely. It's a beautiful day here in Columbus. So I decided, you know, this is going to be my one last day of relaxation before I move off to Long Beach.
And then of course, you know, for us, pretty well right after Long Beach, you go to Kansas, and then we are in Indy for a month. So I figure this is my shot to play a little golf and have a little fun.
So, yeah, the weather is great here and just taking a little time to relax and as you said, it's been awfully busy the last couple of weeks, especially after the win. So it's nice to get a little time.
THE MODERATOR: Well, you're coming to beautiful weather here in Long Beach. It's going to be nice all week here, as well. Tell us a little bit about what's kind of gone on since you won the race and I'm sure you've been going a mile a minute. Tell us a little bit about the experience.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, well, you know, it's just been very busy with a lot of PR happening. You know, for me, I had already agreed to do an appearance at Bridgestone. So yesterday I was in Nashville, and then on Friday I had to go to the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing shop to make a new seat for the IRL. It's been busy; that's the only way to say it.
Every single day, it's been quite tough, so I don't even know how many interviews I've done, but they are so spread out through the day that it's even tough to have a little time to work out to be honest
So it's been busy but you know, as I said to many people, if this is the price you've got to pay for winning, I'm more than happy to take it.
THE MODERATOR: Well, tell us about your memories about the Toyota Grand Prix last year, and obviously similar to this year actually, you started out disappointed with the race in Las Vegas where you didn't do well, and then you bounced back and had a pretty decent Long Beach. Tell us a little bit about that race and your memories of Long Beach.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, you know, I've gone to Long Beach many, many times, and been very close friends with the owner of a bar there called Smooth's, and my father, he's one of my dad's best friends. As kids we used to go and spend a lot of time out there with John's kids, and so obviously there was a lot of time spent in Long Beach. So you always have fond memories being there.
And then of course in Atlantic, we had a pretty good run and even better in Champ Car. I think it was our first good qualifying session, obviously, because Las Vegas for us was disappointing, but you know, I look forward to going there and yet again, I think that it's a chance for us to win.
Obviously the team is on a bit of a high right now and we don't want to ever be overconfident, but I think that, you know, we really did feel that we were going to have an opportunity to win a championship this year in the Champ Car series. So now that it's one series, obviously it's a little bit tougher for us.
But Long Beach is a place where we feel we need to capitalize on our strengths, and of course, you know, it's a great circuit and looking forward to being part of it.
THE MODERATOR: I'm sure you're proud to come back, and some old guy named Rahal is going to be the grand marshal, but that guy, he never won this race; in fact, he finished second four times. So you definitely have to one up the old man here, right?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, I think that it's and like I said, it's a great opportunity. It would be nice to go two for two, and especially, you know, since it is for points. I think that you know it is possible that we could leave there leading points.
So you know, of course for us, it's important to get a good finish, and there are a lot of other people that are going to be out there and they are going for glory and that's about all.
For us, we need to go get a good finish, and I think it's certainly possible.
Q. You alluded to it; it's a unique race because you have some of the people like you who are going for points for the IRL and others who are not. So how do you sort of approach the race knowing that a lot of the drivers have sort of different goals in mind?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, it's a good question, because as we know, I think they are saying there's going to be 20 cars or somewhere around there. I haven't seen exactly but you know, there are a lot of people that are coming here that are just going for points.
Now I don't know how many of that field is going to be IndyCar drivers, that are going for points, but you're going to have a lot of people that are there and they are going for glory. As we all know, they can end up in crashes and incidents quite often, but for us, we don't think there's any reason to take a risk.
You know, like I said, we are going for the points and we need to make sure we finish, because obviously especially for myself, not running at Homestead, already we are fighting a little bit of a challenge.
Now, of course, winning in St. Pete, we are already fourth in points, so it's quite a jump. But again, this week, we can't afford to have another DNF, and we need to keep going forward and keep getting as many points as we can. Because you know what, there is a chance we could win this championship, and as strange as it seemed initially, you know, I know it's early, but there are a lot of road course racing and a lot of ovals. And of course, Indy is a long race. There's a lot of opportunities for us to get some good points this season.
Q. I was talking to your dad on Sunday before he left to Japan and he was talking about how cool and calm and collected you are with everything that happened at that race in St. Petersburg. He said, "For His Age," he says, "I can't believe he's my son. He's like from a different planet; he's so cool, calm and collected." What do you think about that statement from your dad?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously I think it's pretty cool to have someone like that say that about me. It's one of those things that in this sport, it is so easy to get, you know, worked up and you see so many drivers that have short tempers that get out.
Obviously, you know, what he's referring to in the race is when Will Power hit me and spun me out and we came back to win. There's so many guys that wouldn't be able to deal with that kind of adversity, and I think something that he always told me as a kid was, you know, the most important thing is to stay calm and keep a level head. Because no matter what, no matter what position you're in the race we fell back to 22 and got stuck with Oriol in traffic even though we had a quicker car, there's always a chance to win.
I just kept telling myself, saying, look, we are a long way when Will hit me, we were only like a third or maybe not quite a half of the way through the race and there was still an opportunity for us to go and win and that's exactly what we did.
Q. What were your thoughts crossing the finish line?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, first off, I must admit that everybody had been talking about the history. But I've got to tell you that I didn't even remember the history part of it until Kathi [Lauterbach] said something to me, just as I had stopped the car and was getting ready to get out it. Didn't even cross my mind whatsoever.
I also should probably say that I really don't think it's even hit me yet that I've won, because you know, being as busy as I've been, it takes a long time to hit you and doesn't seem to have taken the effect of course when you win, it feels so good to win and to win in the fashion that we did, and everybody might say that we lucked into it because of strategy
But I think we proved in the end that no one there had the speed to contend with us. And it felt a lot like my Atlantic days when we were winning a lot of races, because it just felt so good to finally be in a car that was that good and that you could just you felt like you felt like you were the quickest car and that no one could keep up with you. You know, to have that feeling of power, it was just an awesome day.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously I think it's going to be a little different than the past, but I think it's a great thing we are capping off such a fantastic history by going to Long Beach or ending it in Long Beach, because obviously Long Beach over the last, you know how long has Long Beach been around, 33 years or something? It's been around forever.
So I think you know, it's good that we are finishing it there, because that has been one of the most successful races in all of auto racing, and of course, you've got a huge fan support there, and you know, of course to win there would be so nice, because obviously since dad never won it, you know, it would be great to win there from that perspective.
But also just to say I've won a Champ Car race. You know, I think that it's one of those things I don't know if it would be another record of youngest ever winner in a Champ Car event, but I think we finished that one off last weekend. It would just be it would be great to go and do it again. Of course, like I said, points in mind here, that's the maximum points, so of course it would be great for us
Q. How much of an adjustment is it, or is it much at all; you're just kind of getting the hang of the IRL car and now you go back to the Panoz for a race, is that going to take a while to adjust or are they so much the same that it's six of one, half a dozen of the other?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think they are pretty similar actually. Of course, every little car has got its own little features that are different from one another, but a good car is a good car, and I think we found that at St. Pete. When I was going quick, the car felt to me a lot like my good Champ Car would have in the past.
So, you know, I go out there and I'm just like I said, I'm trying to go and do my best, and I think that we've got a great base setup for these Champ Cars, and you know, I don't know I don't think it's going to take too long to adjust really.
THE MODERATOR: Just to note this will be the 34th running of the Toyota Grand Prix in Long Beach.
Q. You alluded earlier to the strengths of your car at Long Beach; what are they?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think certainly over time when we were there last year, the car was pretty good from my memory banks. And I will say I am young and I have a tough time remembering what happened yesterday, so probably not saying too much.
I think the biggest thing is that over the last year of running the Champ Car, from the time that we were in Long Beach, you know, we had adjusted and changed the setup quite a bit from that point, and really developed the car into at end of the year, I think we were really a force in the series. Of course, Sebastien [Bourdais] was still winning a lot, and pretty much all the races, but we were much closer than at the start.
I think going back to Long Beach, the car ought to be even better than it was last year, and I ought to be a lot better than I was last year.
Obviously that was my first Champ Car race and we had some issues. We were running really well in the race there, we were running fourth and then we had fueling issues because of the fact the cars were so new.
So I think we ought to have a good shot this weekend.
Q. You've gone to a lot of tracks with your dad; did you ever come up to Vancouver?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Absolutely. I was there many times, actually. I think that's certainly a place that I miss going to and you know, it's one of those things that it would be great to have that event back, because you know, you look at the successful venues and certainly Vancouver was a great event. Any time you're in Canada, you get a huge following, and I think that's obviously exciting.
Yeah I think I was there a couple of times and the most recent was when Danica [Patrick] was driving for my dad and she was in the I don't know if was Barber Dodge then yeah. It was a few years ago, the last year of the race.
Q. Your dad's second ever pro race was at a track that no longer exists here in the Atlantics; does every talk about those days, with Gilles Villeneuve?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Oh, yeah, he tries to tell me how great he was, because he raced against Gilles Villeneuve and all that type of stuff. Oh, yeah, I've heard all the stories.
It seems the thing about my dad is it seems that everywhere we go, whether it's Edmonton or these places that you can never believe that he's been before, he had some, you know, some race or some memories in the past of racing at a place near there, and you know, of course he talks about it quite often. His Atlantic days I know were some of his favorite.
Q. There's been a lot said about the merger, but now that you've had time to drive the IRL car, is there anything that you hope to see somehow transferred from Champ Car that could make its way into the IRL, such as standing starts or push to pass; is there anything that you would like to see from the IRL?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I must say that driving the IRL car was certainly a pleasant surprise. I really did enjoy driving it. You know, obviously they have taken a lot of time to develop that car and there are things that that car has that I think, you know, the Champ Car could have benefited from and vice versa.
Of course, as a driver, you know, you always want more power, and I think Honda certainly, if anybody has got the ability to do it, they do, and it would be great to have their old turbo charged engines from the Champ Car days back.
At the same time, the speeds that we are seeing on the ovals in these cars already are extremely high, so to make it quicker would certainly be even more dangerous. I think over time, of course, it's going to evolve, and I think that, you know, the biggest thing that I hope happens is that they get a tub that's big enough for Justin and me, because I can certainly tell you, it's tight in there and that's the biggest thing.
But like I said, it was a very nice car to drive, and when it's handling well, it reminds me a lot of, like I say, where the car was just really good and it just felt so smooth. And of course with a car like that, you know, it's no secret it's got less horsepower, so it's more of a momentum car. You don't drive it into the corner nearly as tough or as fast. So I think it reminds me a lot of an Atlantic car which I really enjoyed.
Q. You're quite comfortable already in the IRL on the road and street courses, how do you feel about ovals do you feel like you need more testing and will you have an opportunity to do more testing before the next race?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, you know, surprisingly, even on the oval, I felt very comfortable. I went out and right away, testing at Homestead my fifth lap was 205.9 or something. I was talking to Will Power after and he was telling me how he's out there pushing hard and he had already done like 60 laps and comes behind me and can't get by me and he had seen me just come out of the pit.
You know, I felt fine on the oval, and our cars were good. My incident was unfortunate because it was a situation where no one else had run where I was and since everybody was out there trying to see how quick their cars could go, you know, we are running around the bottom and when I passed Servia and crashed, I had to go up high.
So I feel fine on the oval. It's different, obviously, because on an oval, they set the car up where the steering wheel is tilted right and your head is crooked to the left. So coming out of the pits, quite a different feeling, but I've got no problem with the car. It's a nice car to drive and it's different, but you know, it's just fine.
Q. Can you talk about the rivalry between the Champ Car and the IRL drivers, and if you think that's good for the sport?
In order to help this sport continue to grow, it needs to stop, because we are all here, we are all working together. We want to make the sport successful, because at the end of the day, for us people that started in open wheel racing, love open wheel racing and want to continue to see open wheel racing succeed and get back to where it used to be, it can no longer be Champ Car versus IRL. It has to just be IndyCar Series.
But like I said it's not going to any time soon. And I think maybe once the Champ Car team starts to be very competitive on the ovals, people will drop it a little, and on the road courses, it's one series now and that's how we need to go forward.
Q. You sort of answered this, I'd like your take. You're in a unique situation and you're a young driver and most of your life you've been part of the split but obviously your family name is synonymous with American open wheel racing, what is it like to take the green flag for the race of the split before you guys are one series back again?
GRAHAM RAHAL: But again, I think the biggest thing is that we are one series now. Of course, this was the best way to resolve a hurdle that we had to merging it and that was by running Japan and Long Beach at the same date. Of course that isn't the ideal but that's how it goes.
You know, I feel fortunate to be in the position I'm at, and I've said this many times, because you know and I know my career just started, but it feels so good to know that the future is so bright. Because when you're sitting there last year, and you're in Champ Car and you realize, you know what, this isn't healthy.
The state of open wheel racing is not healthy right now, and now all of a sudden I'm sitting here a year later thinking, actually, it's getting brighter and brighter every second of the day because especially after the win last weekend, there's so much interest in it, and I just feel lucky that it's come at such an early stage in my career because I could be like all the rest of these guys that have been driving for the last 15 years, and always, they have been in the split.
And now they are sitting there thinking, oh, well, the end of my career is coming up soon, and unfortunately this has just come back together, whereas for me, it's completely the opposite.
THE MODERATOR: First tell us your handicap, I heard it was a 43, and secondly, tell us if you watched the Masters, and if it inspired you in how you're going to hit them today.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I can definitely admit that I don't keep track of handicap, because if I do, then I just get pissed off because yeah, I keep score, but right when I start to like really focus too hard is when I start to mess up.
And today, the biggest thing I hope to do is just hit them straight. I played a couple of times last week, and, you know, the biggest thing is I'm hitting my irons and everything well, but my God, my driver is just horrible. So that's what I'm focusing on right now.
THE MODERATOR: Well good luck today. Thanks everyone for joining us.
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