The Future of IndyCar – Graham Rahal

Key questions on the future of IndyCar racing are not only which chassis will be in production for the 2012 season, but also who will be in the cockpit. Graham Rahal has shown continual growth as a driver with the potential to be a contender given a competitive opportunity. At the unveiling of the Delta Wing concept at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show we discussed not only the potential of the Delta Wing design, but also his prospects for the 2010 IndyCar season.

Mecca of Speed: Did you have an opportunity to see the Delta Wing prototype before today’s unveiling?

Graham Rahal: I saw pictures of it last night. It’s pretty cool; it’s completely revolutionary compared to what we have been racing for many years. It’s something to get the eyes and ears of people we haven’t had in a long time interested in IndyCar again.

It is like opening a book again and I think that’s the most important part at this point in time. We are getting back to places that we haven’t been at for a long time. The open source concept opens the door to anybody and everybody interested in designing and building cars or parts if they are a credible firm.

Everybody can see what is designed and built because it will be open for public knowledge. There are no secrets anymore; everyone can be a part of the Delta Wing program.

Different engine manufactures have talked about different engine formulas for the car. A 3-cylinder turbo, 4-cylinder turbo or a naturally aspirated V-6, a whole list of options. They are only limited on horsepower.

It’s pretty relevant to what we do nowadays. We have a wide range of vehicle manufacturers that are looking to build smaller displacement turbocharged engines. We would be able to run these smaller engines because the car will be much lighter then our current IndyCar.

Mecca of Speed: From a drivers perspective, with its narrow front end and more weight shifted to the rear how do you think this car is going to handle on a road course?

Graham Rahal: I think it’s wide enough in the front. The engineers are confident in the design of the car.

Ben Bowlby is the guy who primarily designed the car. He designed the Lola Champ Car a few years ago which is probably one of the greatest cars I’ve ever driven, so I have a lot of faith in him. If he says it’s good I’ll believe him.

The engineering team is very confident that this car will be competitive and will have the reliability when it’s launched to take the place of our current IndyCar.

Mecca of Speed: Speaking of IndyCar, we are about a month from the start of the season. What are your prospects for 2010?

Graham Rahal: We are working on a couple of things, but there are definitely some challenges ahead. Nothing has come together yet, but we are working hard to make something happen. It’s a never-ending battle, but I’m not afraid of the work.

Mecca of Speed: Have you considered doing any sports car racing, or a few one-off events as you continue to but together an open wheel program?

Graham Rahal: I love to do the long races, and do as much racing as I can. However, in sports cars there are also not a ton of opportunities. You work as a driver to find those little doors of opportunity, but all those doors want a bit money to open. That is why you see a lot of ride buyers and gentlemen racers in sports cars. Sports car racing is fun to do, but they also need money to fund the team just like every other series.

At the same time, I love the racing. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it, but right now my focus needs to be on IndyCar.

Mecca of Speed: You have driven the Lola and Panoz Champ Cars and the Dallara IndyCar. What do you see as the strong point of the Dallara chassis?

Graham Rahal: I think the Dallara is a good car; it’s competitive no matter what other people say. It’s pretty fast and handles well on road courses. The difference between the other chassis and the Dallara is you have to drive the Dallara hard. You have to muscle the car and that is what separates the men from the boys.

The ovals are very challenging and the road courses are fun in the IndyCar series. The difference is in Champ Car there was a wider range of people that could be close but like I said, the Dallara you need to muscle, and there are not a lot of guys that can do that a full race distance.

Mecca of Speed: What is one of the biggest challenges you faced when moving up from the Atlantic series to the big horsepower cars of Champ Car?

Graham Rahal: You named it, horsepower. People forget how hard it is to adapt to a car with over twice the horsepower of the previous car you were racing. You get comfortable at one level, jump to the next and find it’s a whole different animal.

I hear people all the time saying “I’m good” and they think they have what it takes. Then they test a big horsepower car for the first time and start to realize how hard it is to drive at this level.

Mecca of Speed: Outside of your Dad, who was the big influence that gave you the desire to pursue a career in racing?

Graham Rahal: Honestly it was my Dad. Dad was the man. He is why I wanted to race to begin with and continue to race. I want to make my family proud and he is the one who really pushed me in a healthy way that makes me want to be better.

Mecca of Speed: Looking a long way down the road, after racing do you have an interest in following in your Dad’s footsteps as a team owner?

Graham Rahal: I don’t particularly have an interest in becoming a team owner. I would like to be successful as a driver and help maintain my Dad’s car dealerships which will hopefully be enough to be a success in the future.

It’s never easy in racing, but I hope the potential opportunities that this new car presents will allow us to be here for many years to come.

Mecca of Speed: You have primarily raced in North America. What is one of the tracks you always look forward to driving?

Graham Rahal: My two favorite ovals are Indy and Milwaukee. My two favorite road courses are Road America and Mid-Ohio and my two favorite street courses are St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

Mecca of Speed: Do you consider your driving style more technical or instinctual?

Graham Rahal: I would say more technical. I work very hard at driving and work to find the small details that give me an advantage.

Mecca of Speed: What has influenced the design of your helmet?

Graham Rahal: It has the American flag and started with Dad’s basic design. I have modernized it over the years.

Mecca of Speed: If USF1 offered you a seat with the team, would you be interested?

Graham Rahal: You never want to count anything out, but right now I’m more focused on IndyCar.

Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time and we hope you land a full time ride in IndyCar for the 2010 season.

Graham Rahal: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Content credit Graham Rahal and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff and John Vatne.

2/28/2010