For a family like the Rahals, it takes a lot to make a race weekend stand out.
Although he just turned 30, Graham Rahal estimates that he’s been to “thousands" of races. It might seem hard to believe, until you consider that his father, Bobby Rahal, is a legend of open-wheel racing and Graham Rahal has been a professional since he was a teenager. His wife, Courtney Force-Rahal, is a retired drag racer from an iconic family in the sport.
And yet the Rahals can’t wait for IndyCar’s debut at Circuit of the Americas.
“For somebody like my mom, you’d think because she’s my mom she’d want to go to every race," Graham Rahal said. “She does not want to go to every race. For her to be like, ‘I really want to go to Austin,’ it’s cool. It makes it fun."
The clan has lined up a rental on Lake Austin, and Graham said he’ll arrive on the Wednesday before the inaugural IndyCar Classic on March 24. His stepfather, who lives in London, plans to fly across the Atlantic. Sister Samantha Rahal, who lives in Houston, will welcome everybody to her home state.
“Come in early, enjoy what this city has to offer," Graham Rahal said, adding that he’s heard from other drivers who plan to do the same.
The IndyCar paddock has been lobbying to come to Austin since the purpose-built Formula One track opened in 2012. Now that it’s here, the teams are going to take full advantage. And they don’t even have to wait until March.
COTA will welcome the premier open-wheel series in North America for its spring training Feb. 11-12. The second of those days will be open to the public, with fans receiving access to the main grandstand and paddock area from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
It will be the only test before the season begins March 10 in St. Petersburg, Fla. For many drivers, including Rahal, it will be their only chance to drive the Austin circuit before coming back for the real thing. It’s also a crucial time to compare performance with the other cars.
“It would be like going to a (Texas football) game and you standing next to Tom Herman," he said. “You get right down (in the paddock); you can meet the drivers; you can see the cars. Damn near touch them. Some get probably a little closer than we’d like them to.
“Talk to the teams; talk to the crew guys; ask questions. You’re never going to get that access in Formula One, and rarely are you going to get it in other sports."
And while IndyCar hopes to ingratiate itself with fans in a new market, Rahal is preparing his own sales pitch for late March. A native Ohioan who splits time between his new home in California and training in Indianapolis, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing front man has been eyeing the Texas capital for a while.
“I worked on my wife pretty hard to move here a few years back, and it didn’t happen," he said. “She’s a California girl. It would help change my life a lot." Chris Bils/The Statesman