There may not be another driver more fired up on the starting grid for this year’s Indianapolis 500 than Graham Rahal.
The driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda finished third in the race last year, a bittersweet result as he watched teammate Takuma Sato score the victory. His strong pace has been evident throughout the numerous practice sessions — which will be much-needed after qualifying a disappointing 18th.
“I feel good,” said Rahal. “I think even the qualifying package, we weren’t bad. We just got too conservative. That happens. The conditions were better than we anticipated. We didn’t pull off enough drag, so that kind of bit us a little bit. But I think our race cars will be fast. We seem to be the best of our team so far, so we’ll see what that means.
“You’re going to have to race smart, for sure. No mistakes, no errors. I mean. I think this weekend is going to be very easy to screw up, so we’ve got to be smart about it and try to put ourselves in the right position to be successful.”
While some suggest the Indy 500 has become more about track position due to the current aerodynamic configuration, Rahal isn’t fully buying into that notion.
“It has but hasn’t,” added the six-time IndyCar race winner. “If you remember last year, I fell back to like 20-something. I started eighth, but the first two stints were God-awful. Then, once it was time to turn up the heat, I remember I passed Marco (Andretti) on the back straight and passed another guy in the front, like for two positions.
“The car all of a sudden woke up and off we went. I had that earlier this last week. I was texting my engineer (Allen MacDonald) earlier about what the conditions are going to present us and how we can look at the (April) open test, too — because the open test, we were really freaking good compared to most guys. The conditions will be very similar to that. So, how does that work? And what can we take from that and learn from that to be better on Sunday? We’ll see, but I certainly feel like it’s not so much of a track position race as everyone wants to make out. Maybe some other drivers are saying that, but that’s probably more a sign of their cars than reality. For me, I think there’ll be passing and particularly, with the cooler conditions, it’ll be even easier.”
As if the celebration and pageantry that comes with winning the Indy 500 weren’t motivating enough, Rahal goes into this race for the first time as a father after he and wife Courtney Force welcomed daughter Harlan last November. His father, Bobby Rahal, took victory as a new father 35 years ago in the 1986 Indy 500 and celebrated with Graham’s older sister, Michaela, who was only a few months old at the time.
“It’s been good, man,” said Graham of fatherhood. “For me, I think just getting some days that are really free and open and other days where it’s going to be a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call and probably a 10:30 p.m. bedtime by the time I’m all done with this stuff. Some days it just feels like it’s all over the board, but Harlan’s been amazing. Court has been great. The support she’s given me this month to be able to go out and do what I need to do has been good. So, hopefully we can reward them come Sunday afternoon.”