Graham Rahal is determined to be less of a man. By the time racing resumes next year, IndyCar’s tallest driver also wants to be the smallest possible version of himself as part of a fitness and on-track improvement plan he’s put in motion.
“I’ve never been a beanpole like [Andretti Autosport’s Alexander] Rossi; I’ve always been a taller guy with a bigger frame, so there’s not a lot I can do about that, but I’m working my butt off to see how much weight I can take off before we start racing again,” he told RACER.
Standing somewhere north of six-foot-two, Rahal’s ongoing challenge — much like that faced by the late Justin Wilson — has involved cramming long legs and wide shoulders into cramped open-wheel and sports car cockpits. Having accepted his dimensional fate long ago, Rahal says it’s time to downsize his frame wherever possible, and once he’s lighter, it will also help on the engineering side.
With less mass to manage — especially the part sitting upright in the car — the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda Indy car and the Acura Team Penske ARX-05 DPi he drives in IMSA should provide more dynamic handling.
“I’ve never been a doughy guy, but there’s some weight I can lose around my midsection, for sure,” he continued. “I think I can take 10 or 15 pounds off, and that can only help on the engineering side. But I’m most focused on the physical endurance part. I’m not a crossfit guy; doing short explosions has never been my thing. My resting heart rate is 37 [beats per minute], which is extremely low. I’ve always prided myself in the endurance part and still being fresh at the end of a race, and if I’m lighter and have less weight on me, it’s only going to be better that way.”
The high physical demands of racing an Indy car on road and street courses where maximum downforce is applied has made every driver pack on additional upper body muscle mass. It’s the one area where Rahal will be going against the grain.
“For whatever reason, I’ve always had a pretty easy time putting on muscle, so I’m not really wanting to bulk up a bunch,” he said. “Trading some fat for muscle wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I don’t feel I need more strength to drive the car. Where I think my gains will come is from having less of me moving around inside the car.”
Rahal also likes the idea of stepping on the scale and finding less of a pronounced gap to his IMSA teammates.
“Think about when I race with Helio [Castroneves] and Ricky [Taylor]; I’ve got to have 50 pounds, at least, on those guys. Helio, for sure,” he said with a laugh.
Coming off a year where Rahal was disappointed to finish eighth in the IndyCar championship standings, the decision to turn inward and find ways to improve his game speaks to a driver who is searching for more as his 13th season approaches.
“I’m just going really hard in the gym, and I’m also giving up a few things as best I can,” he said. “I stopped drinking for two months to see if that would make a difference, and I didn’t lose a pound, so that didn’t get me where I’m going. The real problem for me, and it’s the same for my dad, and my wife, is I have the world’s worst sweet tooth. Giving up desserts is hard — really hard — but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if it makes me faster.”