Q and A with Graham Rahal
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's IndyCar conference call. Our guest today is the driver of the No. 38 Service Central Honda, Graham Rahal.
Graham is 10th in the IZOD IndyCar points standings following his fourth-place finish at the Edmonton Indy. It was his third top-five finish of the season. Graham is one of the 21 drivers that will be participating in a test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course tomorrow.
Q. Graham, coming off that fourth-place finish at Edmonton, it has to feel good taking some momentum into a test day at your home track.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Without a doubt, it does. It feels good anytime you can build momentum at any point in the season. Particularly for us at this point, of course going to Mid-Ohio, which is my home race, a place that's always kind of stumped me, I've never really had a great result there. Even more than that, I think the season's been so up and down, it means a lot to us just to get a good finish.
Really I'm happy with the result we had at Edmonton. I feel like it's a result we should be having every weekend, or certainly more frequently than we have been right now.
But I think things are looking good ahead.
Q. You mentioned Mid-Ohio being your home track. It's been a special place for your family. Your dad is a two-time winner at Mid-Ohio. You won the SCCA runoffs there not too long ago. Talk a little about Mid-Ohio, racing at home, near Columbus, the pressure of racing in front of friends and family.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, the pressure of the atmosphere got more to me in my first or second year. Now it's I just want to get a good result there.
I love the racetrack. There's a lot of history there in IndyCar racing. Certainly with the Rahal family, it goes back to Jim Trueman giving my dad his first opportunity in Indy cars. Actually, really giving my dad his first opportunity and sponsorship for Atlantic.
Really for us to be at home, it means a lot. Like I said, we've always been fast there. We've had some really strong runs, but we always have contact, I made a mistake in 2009, 2010. We were kind of charging through the field, made contact with Danica. Things have not been quite what we want. But hopefully we can turn it around here.
THE MODERATOR: In addition to racing at home, you have some pretty special promotions through your foundation to raise some money for some causes close to your heart. I know there's a ticket deal that benefits the Columbus Zoo.
GRAHAM RAHAL: This is very important to me, something I've been working hard to push.
A lot of people don't know this, but my godfather is Jack Hanna. Jack has transcended the world of a normal zookeeper, I think. He's really turned the Columbus Zoo into one of the greatest zoos if not the greatest zoo and aquarium around.
I asked Mid-Ohio if they would be willing to do something to not only support the foundation, hopefully we'll do this at more tracks in the future, but also help a local charity, or in this case the zoo. They're working on building a new exhibit, the safari exhibit, really focused around cheetah and cheetah conservation.
We said, 'OK, $5 of each ticket will go towards it.' For people that already bought their tickets, there will be jars or collection places at all the concessions around the racetrack. They can still go online and just donate if they wanted to.
On top of all of that, I have a specially designed helmet and gloves. My gloves are actually cheetah print, they're extremely cool. People are going to have to bid a lot to out-bid me on those. But the helmet is another thing we're doing. Again it's got cheetah print, cheetah conservation, cheetah safari on the top. Really we're just trying to help out the zoo.
Columbus, I'm here right now, and it's one of my favorite places in the whole world. It's home to me and I love it. Certainly to help Jack would mean a lot. Hopefully it's something we can continue on in the future.
In fact, I was just at lunch discussing all the things we can do at the foundation. Certainly Mid-Ohio is the hot topic of a track that we like to do something at. Hopefully it's the first of many years to come that we can do this.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned your helmet and auctioning it off for charity. You're doing that with a helmet-design contest for the Fontana race.
GRAHAM RAHAL: The helmet design contest, people can go online to GrahamRahalFoundation.org. The design template is on there. The way to submit it is on there. People can print it off, design the helmet, scan it back in, basically submit it to us.
I'll wear the helmet at Fontana and then we'll auction it off again for the foundation to help (indiscernible) Camps, which was formerly the Hole in the Wall Camps.
It's something so easy we could do but could have a lot of potential to it. Hopefully it will work out.
Q. Graham, this is the first permanent road course this season back since Barber. You obviously did really well there. One of the big things there was such a big gap between the primaries and the reds. Do you think there's going to be a similar gap between the two compounds? Also, how do you handle a track like Mid-Ohio, given there's so many different types of serious rubber that goes down like with ALMS?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Certainly the rubber is always a trick. We've always kind of adapted well to the ALMS rubber. I don't think we struggled that much. Maybe it's because there's so many different types of rubber. You have Dunlop, Michelin, Yokohama, Falken, everything is out there. Maybe it helps that there's not a single type put down on the track.
As far as the primaries to options, to the alternate reds, in fact, I was just talking to David a minute ago about that. I hope it's a big gap because I think it makes it awfully exciting.
You always say I got more in qualifying than you do in a race. At Edmonton, there wasn't much of a gap. You know, hopefully we'll see a little bit more.
Q. After the season, you're going down to Australia for the Surfers Paradise race. Having not been down there since 2008, what do you expect down there? They give the top international drivers the Dan Wheldon trophy. How special would it be to bring that home?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, it would mean a lot obviously to get that award. You know, I'm really looking forward. Surfers is a place I love. I still wished we raced there in IndyCar. It's a great atmosphere. Year in and year out, we had fantastic crowds. It's an awesome place to go and race.
The guy that actually runs Kelly Racing is Tony Dowe. Tony was the guy that really gave me my first opportunity to run at Daytona. He's called me a few months ago, we've had our deal done for a couple months. I don't know why I waited so long to announce it, but we did.
I'm really excited. I absolutely love going there. To drive for Jack Daniel's Racing, with Rick Kelly, who has had a lot of success in the series, we got a good shot at it.
We're going to have a good time, but we're also going to win this thing. So that's the goal.
Q. Getting down there to race in the V8 Super Cars, I know Scott (Dixon) and Sebastien (Bourdais) are racing in the GRAND-AM race here at the Speedway, I think Tag (Alex Tagliani) announced he's going to race the NASCAR race in Montréal, do you think that shows off the versatility of the drivers in the IndyCar Series?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Sure it does. My dad and I always said this: I think the difference between a good driver and a great driver is a great driver can drive in everything and be competitive in everything. Growing up for me, my dad was that guy. He could drive a sports car, he could drive a Cup car, he could drive an IndyCar, he could drive a Can-Am car. Didn't matter, anything he got in, he was fast.
That's the way I try to approach it, is I want to drive all these things and I want to be in all these different events. Not only does it help me in my brand, not only is it fun, but I think it establishes you on a worldwide basis that you can be competitive in anything you drive.
I would have loved to be doing the GRAND-AM race this weekend. I pushed Chip really hard to do it, and unfortunately Juan and Jamie actually got the ride due to their NASCAR sponsorship and connections.
Nothing against that. I simply love driving in all these different events. To win the 24 Hours At Daytona last year was one of my proudest accomplishments. I mean, Indy 500 still ranks right up there.
You know, I just try to do it all. I enjoy it.
Q. Graham, as close as the series has been, there's been 19 different drivers in the top five this season. Does the closeness of this field surprise you this season?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, you know, it doesn't at all. I think that the new car, when we started testing it right away, it was like. "Holy smokes, this is going to be awfully competitive.' The times were so close together. I think everybody was awfully impressed by that.
I also think that the crop of drivers in this field is as good as there is anywhere in this world. I mean, people say, Formula One, those guys are meant to be the best. I understand that. But, you know, we're talking about a car that has no driver age, it has a relatively low running budget, teams, engineers, the whole deal. It's a very minimalistic approach in many ways.
At Edmonton, over a fairly large course, the whole field was within a second I think at one point in time. That is incredibly close. I'm not surprised by it simply because I do think the driving quality is very high. We didn't have a yellow at Edmonton. I think that says a lot.
But it's kind of fun. We love it. I mean, we want to, when we win, or even finishing fourth for me last weekend, it's all good because you know you beat some really good guys.
I can't say I'm surprised. I think it's been kind of heading this way since, say, 2009 or so. I felt that it really got competitive, and it's only built since then.
Q. Graham, one other thing that's been impressive this year is (Charlie Kimball's) development. How would you rate how he's improved year on year, especially with some of his results and consistency?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, Charlie has done a fantastic job, really working to develop his speed. Of course, I get to see it all firsthand in the areas where he really lacked when he came in, the areas that he's really gained on now.
Certainly I know he kind of hit a lot of things last weekend, but that's not all bad. I actually am quite impressed with his race last weekend for many reasons. I think the biggest thing is he's showing his confidence and aggressiveness in the car. That's the way you got to be.
I think last year everybody would have looked at Charlie as an easier guy to get by, whatever it may be, on the restarts he was a little tentative. He's not that way anymore. I think that's a very good sign for him.
I think you're going to see him here in the series for a long time and I think he's only going to get better. He's done a really, really good job.
Of course Toronto being the peak of it all, all weekend he was on his game. They missed it a little bit in qualifying, but other than that, in practice and in the race, they were awfully good.
Hats off to he and Brad (Goldberg), his engineer, and the whole group. They've done a good job.
Q. Graham, you were one of the drivers that got to do IndyCar 36 this season, speaking of the momentum, the display of the competitiveness of the series. What was that like for you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's good and bad (laughter). I liked it. I thought it was fun. But, you know, they missed on a lot of things that I wished they had hit on. As I watched it over, and I didn't watch the whole thing, I thought it came off kind of raw, that they focused on the drama things of it, which I know that's reality TV nowadays. But they kind of missed on some of the things, spending time with dad and I and the family, that I wish really would have been shown, but it wasn't.
At the same time it does show simply, you know, what's it's like, the stress, everything else that goes on, how busy our lives really are. I wish that everybody could have seen everything that goes on in a day, but simply it takes too much time.
It was a great thing. I really hope they continue to do it. I really hope that the fans tune in to watch it. One of the most important things about all of this is fan loyalty and brand loyalty. We need that to keep improving.
It's a good way for people to see what it's all about.
Of course, the biggest thing for me is I always like the fans to see what these drivers and what these people are like when they're not being watched every minute of the day, when we're able to get outside of the car and away from the world of racing a little bit, because that shows who we really are and the personalities we really have.
I think this could develop into something that really does that.
Q. Aside from just your personal opinion of what you wish would have gotten put in or what you wish didn't, do you think your fans had a very positive response to it?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I did. I did. Everybody I heard back from really enjoyed it. I think I was the second guy to do it, I think. So, you know, I haven't watched any of the other ones honestly, so I don't know what they're like currently. But I'm sure things have developed.
But, yeah, like I said, I think it's got a lot of potential. We need more shows like this. Of course, we need the attendance and the eyes to be up, the viewership to be up, but overall all of this stuff is good not only for us as drivers and our teams but mainly our sponsors.
THE MODERATOR: Graham, seeing as there are no further questions, we thank you for your time, wish you the best of luck tomorrow at Mid-Ohio and next week for the race.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Thank you.
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