Rahal ready to lead at Newman/Haas/Lanigan
At 20 years of age, Graham Rahal could be finishing up his sophomore year of college and debating whether spring break should take him to Cancun, Ft. Lauderdale or South Padre Island.
Instead, Rahal is entering his third season with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, now as the anchor of a team that won two races in the IndyCar Series last year.
Rahal, who has been teammates with Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson the last two seasons, will step up to the red and yellow No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team entry. Rahal earned the position with a fifth-place finish overall as a rookie in Champ Car in 2007, a strong showing in 2008 that included a record-setting victory and four top-10 finishes and maturity beyond his years.
“I think the expectations that are put in place aren’t necessarily because of my role on the team but more because of the fact that I want to go out there and win races and be successful,” said Rahal, who became the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing history when he won his IndyCar Series debut at St. Petersburg last year. “Coming from a situation in Champ Car and transitioning here last year, it’s all building blocks and leadership skills and a lot of learning that’s taken place. Basically, every step in my career has been a learning year for me.
“This season, I think the entire team comes in with a lot more confidence, knowing that we ought to have a much better shot at being successful and winning races. I want to go out there and win races and prove that I deserve the role that I’ve taken in this team now. I feel like I’ve done a good job of building the team around me over the last couple of years and now it will hopefully all show through.”
Rahal’s teammate will be 27-year-old Robert Doornbos – a rookie in the IndyCar Series but a driver who has experience in Formula One and Champ Car.
“When I made the move from Formula One to Champ Car in 2007, I had no knowledge of circuits, tires, drivers, engine, whatever of that series, and I had five podiums out of the first six races, so that was a motivation boost,” Doornbos said. “I think my attitude is the same for IndyCar. The team contacted me because they know what I can do, and I’m here to do the best job I can. Of course, I have respect for the ovals, there’s still a steep learning curve, but nothing to be worried about.”
Doornbos is happy to be partnered with Rahal.
“Graham is a great guy,” Doornbos said. “He has a big name in the U.S., so there’s some pressure on him to perform, but I think we should have a strong team this year.”
The team may also field a car for third-year driver Milka Duno, who has been testing with the team.
“For me, it’s good to have the extra data (of teammates),” Rahal said. “On the ovals, it will help to have a couple extra cars to try things on. It’s always a bonus to have more than one competitive car to learn from.”