Q and A with Graham Rahal at Texas
GRAHAM RAHAL: I didn't feel much of a difference with those (Revised Butt Bumpers). Everything seems to be fine from that side of things.
This is going to be a tricky, tricky race. You know, I know there's a new tire here, there's a whole bunch of aero changes. But the times seemed to be falling off pretty quickly. I think even in qualifying, you might have to take it pretty easy on your out lap to not hurt the tire too much for the two laps.
You know, the panels seem to be fine. All those sorts of things are all right. There's so many different configurations we can all play with I know the Honda boys have been trying out. Sato, at the end for instance, ran without any of the winglets on the rear of the car and all that stuff. Obviously his first lap was quick and his second lap was about three miles an hour slower.
There's a lot of stuff to play with. Everybody's trying to get it all done in a short period of time. But so far so good.
Q. It's been a strong season for you so far, aside from an early exit in Detroit race one last weekend. What encourages you coming into this week, a track you've had strong performances at in the past?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, things are good. Detroit race one ticks me off, obviously getting caught up in someone else's deal. Particularly now with the sudden change of heart on the Helio penalty makes it hard because now we lost a spot in the championship there.
We just got to keep focused on doing the best that we can. The car was really good there actually earlier. Very pleased with what we had in race trim.
Like I said, going to be pretty slick. I think a lot of guys are struggling with the rear of the car pretty bad. We're the same, I think just less than others.
Our goal right now is just to keep trying to get as many points as we can. Moving forward I think it's probably, you know, been my goal so far this season, just to take it slow and steady there to start the race and get ourselves up in a position by the end of it to contend. We've done a pretty good job.
But, you know, this race is going to be one of those you're going to have to keep that mindset, stay out of trouble. You know, I didn't see Hunter-Reay's crash, but things like that I think are going to be pretty easy to do tomorrow if you're not cautious. It's definitely going to be a really, really tough day.
You know, the championship has gone well for us. We got a long time to go here. We're trying to keep our heads down, keep focused, do the absolute best that we can, try to challenge those Penske boys, and obviously Dixon is right there. But really the Penskes have been so stout everywhere we've gone, and seem to be again today.
Q. The series is in the tail end of an 8- to 10-week period of on-track action. How do you and the team handle the back-to-back stresses of race weekends?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's been brutal. It's been really, really, really hard on the guys. You know, luckily we've had good results to keep the morale up, to keep the guys excited and pushing forward.
But, you know, I mean, these guys are working endless hours to get these cars on track each and every weekend. It's hard right now for them, for sure.
I mean, for me it's not bad obviously because I'm kind of able to fly in and out. But, you know, I know after Detroit, they were right back at work till 11 p.m., 12 p.m. at night, both Monday and Tuesday, just to get the car built to come here. That's brutal. I mean, it's been pretty tough on the guys.
So two more weekends of this and maybe we get a weekend off. I'm sure they're all looking forward to that.
Q. In comparison to last year, the tire wear, the falloff related to these aero kits, how does first practice compare to that?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it's going to be close to the same as last year, for sure. I think it's going to be pretty difficult.
The tires to me last about two laps. I mean, I can feel it at the end of my second qualifying sim lap there. I could feel my tires going off already.
I know there's this talk, I think some of the Chevy drivers said that they felt like there would be pack racing here again. There's just no chance (laughter). I mean, it is going to be tough tomorrow night.
I think Firestone brought a tire this year that's a little better. It adds a little bit of stability to the corner, on entry to the corner, makes the cars a little more predictable. But the falloff is still about the same.
Q. Eddie Gossage was not happy. He's been vocal saying he didn't like last year's race. Eddie wants to see a better race this year. You had a good race at Indy. Do you think this package will allow you to have a good race here also? Any feel for that at all?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Here's the thing. I see what he's saying. I understand it. But the truth is, last year was probably the most demanding race as a driver to physically drive. So it depends on what you consider a good race.
Is a good race a guy taking the most amount of luck and him winning in pack racing? Or is a good race somebody driving the wheels off the damn thing and winning the race? It depends what you consider good.
I don't think this thing needs to be that much closer. I think what happened is the team — what happens now is the teams that get it right, you know, they deserve to be up front. They got it right last year. Looked like Ed struggled in practice one here. They're going to be working to get it right again.
It's a demanding thing. But what you see nowadays versus what we've been spoiled with here as far as close racing, you know, 10 years ago, the tires aren't what they were before. We don't have nearly as much downforce as you ever did before. The track isn't grippy. This track is one of the bumpiest ovals we go to all season long. You can barely see coming down pit lane it's so bumpy.
So it's one of those things that you have all these different factors that play a role. It's just like when we went to Barber, a road course, right, the first couple tests we did there the cars were flying because the grip of the track is so high. As it ages, it loses grip, things change.
That's what you have here I think a little bit. It's becoming increasingly slippery. The bumps are becoming bigger in the corners. It's even harder to get the cars right. So it does spread things out a little bit.
But I don't think you need to be on top of each other. I mean, people watch NASCAR racing every weekend. Most of the time there's not a whole lot of passing there, too. You know what I mean? It just depends on what you're looking for.
I hated last year driving it because our car wasn't very good. But at the same time it was demanding, and I like that. It needs to be tough. I think all the drivers feel that way.
You know, the pack racing thing, truthfully it feels as a driver like every move you make is life or death, and that's not fun. When you get in those situations, it's just like all the time you're worried about something going wrong.
Indy's a different deal. The tire at Indy lasts longer, so there's a little bit closer racing there than I think what you'll see. But I think you're going to see a ton of passing here, I really do. I think you're going to see a ton because there's going to be guys that are going to be good at the start, terrible at the end. There's going to be guys that will be the opposite.
I think that's what makes this racing interesting. And then you look at the tires, I mean, some guys are looking at maybe if they can get a set of tires that last 30 laps. That would be great. But a fuel stint is 50 something. It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out, too. It's going to be interesting to see how this goes tomorrow night.
Q. Graham, you alluded to the points swap with Helio. Do you feel you got screwed on this deal given the way this thing has turned out, what they didn't see the first time?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Look, I'm not going to make any comments on it. I think once a penalty's done it should be done. To change it a month later…
But, you know, we're going to focus on beating Helio this weekend and getting those points back. If we can do that, we'll be just fine.
It's frustrating obviously because my team, I think everybody's worked very hard this year. We feel like in St. Pete we got hosed with that penalty. We still feel that way. That took us out of a top three, top four right there. So we finish 11th.
I'd like those points back, too, but you can't. You know what I mean? Once a penalty's done, it should be done. But, you know, it is what it is, I guess.
Q. Graham, I'm not sure if this was the race last year, it seems to me at some point drivers asked for tires that weren't so consistent, so there would be some falloff. I think it happened here. I'm wondering if you're finding that after a couple of laps, the tires just don't have as much grip as you'd like them to have?
GRAHAM RAHAL: For sure.
Q. How can you go a whole tire stint? Do you think people will do an extra pit stop?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I doubt anybody's going to go a whole stint tomorrow.
It's not the worst. We asked for this, as you said. We wanted this on the road courses and the ovals. It's more in the drivers' hands and the teams' to get it right, as I said before, as compared to being in a pack and getting lucky.
You know, as I look at even the road course race, that was our strength. That's been kind of our strength. When the tires fall off, we fall off less. That's kind of what we have to focus on here.
Obviously qualifying's coming up next. Not really sure where we're going to end up. I'm hoping in the top 10, top 8. But our kind of focus right now is just, when we fall off, let's fall off less than anybody else and we'll be fine.
What Firestone is doing, there's nothing wrong with it, that's what we've all asked for. It just makes it really tricky, for sure.
But in turn, that's what makes the racing good. You look at the road course races, they've been awesome this year. That's why, you know what I mean? If the tires are good all the time, consistent, everybody was consistent, you'd never see any passing. That's why tomorrow could be pretty thrilling when you get this sort of range of cars all over the place. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Q. Graham, for practice this morning, it was really like a test session as well as practice. I don't know if Honda says, Okay, here's the aero kit we want all the drivers to run or if you have some options there. Seems like some people were changing some things. Talk about what you can accomplish in that short period of time. Does it give you enough confidence to go forth and now race?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Again, you know, in our case, Honda comes to us with their suggestions, Wirth Engineering comes to us with their suggested kit, This is what we feel is the best. Then it's really up to the teams.
You saw to start the session the Andrettis had the speedway wickers. We had the road course ones, or the winglets on the back. Jake's had none. That's a huge change in downforce and drag levels obviously between those three options.
And really, you know, like our guys, what we've been pretty strong at I think this year on the engineering side is keeping it relatively simple. Our guys looked at it and said, Well, we think this is best. From here we're going to try this. If that works, then great. If it doesn't, then we'll just qualify conservatively and just focus on the race.
And we happened to do stuff that I think worked well for us in practice. But you don't have a lot of time to go backwards. If it doesn't work, you know, can you go back? There's no time to really do that, or no time and tires. We talk about tires. You got to save a lot of sets of tires for tomorrow night. There's an emphasis on that.
I don't even know how many configurations you can come up with, but tonight you're going to see a lot. Even in 30 minutes, you're going to see cars roll out there with every little ounce of downforce they can find to guarantee people are going to try. It's going to be pretty interesting to see what all configurations show up.
I mean, on those winglets, there's three or four different configurations of those you can run. Then you have your beam wickers. Then you have wickers on the pods. Then you've got, I don't even know. You can go on all day, but there's a lot. Trying to do what you can to just get the car to be consistent is kind of the goal.
THE MODERATOR: Graham, thank you very much.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Thank you