Graham Rahal wants to emulate almost everything his father accomplished in motor racing.
Winning the Indy 500, as Bobby Rahal did in 1986, tops the list. Becoming a three-time IndyCar Series champion, as Bob accomplished with titles in 1986, 1987 and 1992, also ranks as priority.
Following in his dad’s footsteps on the 25th anniversary of Rahal-Hogan Racing failing to qualify for the 1993 Indy 500? Graham’s doing all he can to avoid adding his name to that family distinction.
Bob’s entry for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing proudly bore the number 1 on its nose and flanks. The Rahal-Hogan Racing chassis, a Truesports 92C that was developed by the defending CART IndyCar Series champions, had been renamed the “R/H 001” in deference to its new owners.
By the time qualifying was over and the popular Indy winner wasn’t part of the field of 33, the R/H stood for “Real Handful,” and the defending series champion was missing from the show. The all-American car, designed and built in Ohio, was powered by a solid Chevy engine – the same Emerson Fittipaldi would use to win the 1993 Indy 500 – but even the Bowtie’s horsepower couldn’t mask the R/H 001’s shortcomings.
“Well, if I’m gonna be brutally honest with myself … we won the championship, Rahal-Hogan had a great year … won four races, a lot of great consistency and, foolishly kind of thought, we could, you know, we could do it,” Rahal said, reflecting on the brave move that saw the team move from running Lolas in 1992 to becoming a chassis constructor.
“We had a lot of confidence – me as a driver and as an owner, and we had the opportunity to test the Truesports car that Don Halliday had designed and thought it was a, a pretty good car. And we did that in, I’m gonna say, August or September of ‘92, tested at Mid-Ohio with the car and felt like this might have potential.”
It didn’t. At least not at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
If anything, the troubled 1992 season experienced by Truesports and driver Scott Pruett with the rubber band-like 92C was as a roadmap to where Rahal’s team would arrive at Indy.
“So, then we had the bright idea, and I’ll take full responsibility, but [we] had the bright idea that we should go this direction with our own car, um, because obviously if it was good enough, and we’re the only one that had it, we could win another championship. I had a lot of respect for Don Halliday, and still do, and off we went.”
To Rahal’s credit, the rebadged Truesports chassis showed some speed on street courses where consistent handling was not an expectation. The bumpy, undulating city streets masked the R/H 001’s deficiencies, but once the chassis was introduced to Indy’s long, smooth corners, the flexible car surrendered copious amounts of speed whenever Rahal turned the steering wheel.
“The results; there were some false hopes in the sense that we went to Long Beach, finished second in the car,” he said. “We were sixth in the car in Australia … [and] it was like, hey, that’s not too bad. It’s like, well, we’ll go to Indy and we’ll be right there because the car had been competitive when Scott Pruett drove it.
Pruett had coaxed midfield speed from the 92C, but he had also been vocal about its shortcomings as the season continued. As other chassis manufacturers made progress with their cars, the little one-car Truesports outfit was being left behind at each round on the development front.
Using funds from the significant corporate backing the No. 1 car carried, Rahal hoped to find untapped potential within the 92C as new development projects were commissioned by the Rahal-Hogan team for 1993. Ambition, as he recalls, was never lacking.
“Things change from year to year, but nevertheless we thought we could take that basic car and make a better version of it,” he continued. “We got very heavily involved in producing a lot of components – the gearbox, and actually looking at a new tub. And frankly, in the end, the project was more than we could digest.”
As two weeks of practice and qualifying got under way, Rahal occasionally found himself toward the middle of the time sheets, but there was a disturbing trend as a deficit of six miles per hour or more was shown to the leaders.
“I think it was up to the fourth lap in qualifying, we actually had the speed to make it into the field, but you weren’t ever quite sure where it was going,” he said. “Kind of an understeer, oversteer, you know. I mean, it was not very confidence inspiring for sure, but we had made our bed, and we had to sleep in it.”