Bobby Rahal on 50 Years of Memories at Mid-Ohio
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has been a part of Bobby Rahal’s life since he was a child. He was inspired by his experiences at the track and went on to compete in races there, including 16 Indy car events from 1983-1998. Nine of those races were as a driver and the following seven were as a team owner/driver. He won two Indy car races (1985 from pole, 1986), two poles (1983, 1985), made three front row starts (2nd in 1987), finished on the podium in eight of his 16 races for a 50 percent average, and earned 9 top-fives and 11 top-10 finishes.
Before being relocated to an Indianapolis suburb this season, the Indy car operation was based in Hilliard, Ohio, 50 miles from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The championship-winning ALMS program – BMW Team RLL – is still based there. Bobby shared a few memories of his time at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in advance of Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge ALMS race and Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 IZOD IndyCar Series event.
BOBBY RAHAL ON THE THOUGHTS THAT COME TO MIND ABOUT MID-OHIO SPORTS CAR COURSE
“When I was driving into Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course today, I was thinking that it was the 50th year I have been coming here. My father was here for the first ever race in 1962 and I came as a little kid. I don’t know if I have been to Mid-Ohio every year since then but it has to be pretty close. Personally I have some big wins here. Brian Redman and I drove here in the 1979 Lumberman race which was a ‘You bring it, you run it’ sort of race and won it and I think I won more prize money in that than I did in most Indy car races until I won the Indy 500 in 1986. If I look back, winning two Indy car races here in a row, the Lumberman’s 500 with Redman and then I won again later on with Jim Trueman in 1983; I have a lot of success here over the years. It’s a special place for me.
“In the old days, you couldn’t run here until you were 21 years old even though every where else was 18. Having said that, when I finally did get to run at Mid-Ohio in 1974, I loved the track and was immediately successful. And then my mentor Jim Trueman bought the track in 1982, and he certainly transformed it from being just a race track to a place that was great for spectators. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has really been part of the fabric of my life; coming here as a kid with his father to being a professional.
“My experiences at Mid-Ohio, for sure, are part of what inspired me to be a professional race car driver. I would come to the track to watch Can Am races while in college because my university (Denison University) is only about 30 miles south. And we came here a lot in part because my grandparents lived in northern Ohio so it was a place we always went to. I saw a lot of great racing at Mid-Ohio -- Can-Am, USRC, Formula 5000 -- you name it. It’s certainly one of the better circuits in North America.”
RAHAL ON SUCCESS AT MID-OHIO
Rahal finished on the podium six times in nine races as a driver (1983-1991) and went on to compete seven more times once he founded what is now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He sites his immediate enjoyment of the track as a key to his success here.
“I’m not sure what led to the success at Mid-Ohio; I just always liked the track. I should have won three (IndyCar races) in a row instead of two. In 1987 I made a mistake and tried to pass a guy I was lapping and he came down on me and flattened the tire with a few laps to go and (Roberto) Guerrero won instead and I had been well in the lead. When I first came to Mid-Ohio in 1974 and drove my first race here, I won and have liked the track ever since then. A very good driver in a less-than-competitive car can still make a difference here. Aside from that, physically it is by far one of the most – if not THE most -- demanding tracks in Indy car racing. They say ‘horses for courses’ and I guess this is one of my courses.”
RAHAL ON WHAT WINNING AT MID-OHIO WOULD MEAN TO HIM
Although the team has 20 Indy car wins, it has yet to earn one at Mid-Ohio. In addition, the ALMS team has finished third each of the past three years at Mid-Ohio. A win here would be his first as a team co-owner as well as his first since he won here in 1986.
“It would great to win at Mid-Ohio. We have certainly been competitive over the years in the races we have run here. When you have had success as a driver here, you think you could have the same success as a team. Unfortunately it hasn’t been that way. We have been in a position to win races here; we just have to finish it off. We qualified well here with BMW Team RLL but struggled during the race on occasion. It’s a tough track. In Indy car, the same thing could be said. We have to do the whole job; not just part of it. I’m looking forward to another go at it!”
BOBBY ON TAKUMA SATO BEING A CONTENDER AT MID-OHIO
“I think Takuma can be a contender at Mid-Ohio this year. He finished well here last year and I think this is his kind of track so absolutely I think he can be a contender in the race, especially if we run a race like we did in the last race in Edmonton. I don’t think there is any doubt we can be competitive; I’m certainly optimistic. We tested last week and found some things out which gave us a good place to start for race weekend. I don’t see any reason why we can’t be competitive.”