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Rahal Talks About Monkeys, His Dad, His Future

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 3 2016
Graham Rahal came out the winner after an exciting finish at Texas Motor Speedway last week. He goes for a second straight win this weekend at Watkins Glen. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

Graham Rahal came out the winner after an exciting finish at Texas Motor Speedway last week. He goes for a second straight win this weekend at Watkins Glen. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Now that he has snapped a year-long Verizon IndyCar Series losing streak, Graham Rahal is in no particular hurry to exchange small talk with one of his team co-owners.

bugindycarNothing personal, but that guy is Bobby Rahal.

“To be honest, I really don’t hear from dad much anymore, you know?” Graham said through a laugh during a media session Friday afternoon at Watkins Glen International. “It’s true actually. I was kind of picking on him the other day. After he got off the radio (Saturday night), I didn’t have to hear him. All of a sudden we started winning.

I was just messing with him. I like to get him fired-up a little bit.”

Rahal clearly is running on the adrenaline rush created by Saturday night’s scintillating, last-lap victory in “The Resumption” of the rain-delayed Firestone 600 around Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval. Rahal passed James Hinchcliffe exiting the last turn of the 248th and final lap and held on for the win by 0.0080-seconds _ closest finish in the 20-year history of the Fort Worth facility and fifth-closest finish of any Indy car race in history.

“Yeah, it’s been one heck of a week, a lot of ups and downs, rollercoaster ride for me,” Rahal said before a two-hour practice in preparation for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. “The last nine laps there were as thrilling of racing as you’re ever going to get, more thrilling than I really like to see. It was a lot of fun.”

Rahal hooked up with Hinchcliffe, 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan and series point-leader

Graham Rahal takes Turn 8 during practice at The Glen. He talked about taking a future turn toward being a businessman and about his relationship with his father on Friday.

Graham Rahal takes Turn 8 during practice at The Glen. He talked about taking a future turn toward being a businessman and about his relationship with his father on Friday.

Simon Pagenaud for three- and four-wide racing down the stretch _ the latter eye-popping occurrence on Lap 244.

“In that moment, you’re loving it,” said Rahal, who scored his fourth series victory and first since an emotional win at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2015. “When you’re battling wheel-to-wheel like that, there’s nothing better than racing somebody mano-a-mano, doing everything it takes to get the win. Obviously, very fortunate that we came out on top.

If anything, I noticed this week, I’m sleeping a lot better. My wife (Courtney Force) will probably tell you I’m a lot nicer. I feel like the monkey is off my back. It had been a year since we had won, or just at a year. Felt like this year we were just knocking on the door constantly. I saw today we were third-most top-five finishes of the whole series, yet still just had a lot of disappointments. It was nice to get that win out of the way.

“Special race. Glad everybody came out in one piece. Glad to be here. Two races to go. See how it goes.”

Bobby Rahal, of course, is the 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion, a three-time CART champ and founder/co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Graham is in his fourth season of driving for the team that also features late night TV icon David Letterman and Illinois businessman Mike Lanigan as partners. While Bobby remains the go-to face of the franchise, Graham’s preparation and race day activity continues to be handled by strategist Ricardo Nault and engineer Eddie Jones.

“What is his (Bobby’s) role?” said Graham, repeating a media question. “A lot of wine consumption I think, typically. I don’t know. He’s here because, again, I mean, in all honesty he is of a lot of value to the team if need be. He does present a lot of ideas because at the end of the day these race cars are race cars.

Yeah, we’re doing a lot of aerodynamic stuff, whatever is happening. But the basic setups and stuff, we’re not turning these things upside down. The world is not changing so much that dad can’t have a great influence on what we’re doing.

So if the engineers have those questions, dad is there for the answer. If I do, he’s there at all times. In all honesty, ask my guys, I think they’ll tell you, I think my dad is the best boss to work for in this series, cares a lot about the employees. There’s a great moral support when they see him around. It means a lot to have him walking through, patting the guys on the back, being there with them.

We’re going out tomorrow night for the team. Those are the sorts of things we do frequently to build this into a team. He is a huge influence on that, so…it’s great to have him. Trust me, we prefer to have him than not. We prefer he be here than not be.”

Graham described his father as a “straight-shooter,” moreso when it comes to his son. “He’s an honest guy,” said Graham, a 27-year-old resident of New Albany, Ohio. “He cares to give everybody the right opinions to help them in whatever it may be. His advice is always great. It’s

Graham Rahal hit the road at Watkins Glen for practice on Friday.

Graham Rahal hit the road at Watkins Glen for practice on Friday.

always nice to have. That’s one of the biggest reasons I race for RLR. I found all the other teams I was racing for went to dad for advice anyway. It was easier to be driving for him and get it first-hand.

The past years he’s stepped back, he doesn’t go over to pit lane anymore. We don’t see him that much. But it’s pretty special to have a guy at your call whenever you need some help and advice. He’s definitely there.”

For the record, Graham regularly communicates with his father as a junior partner with two other investors in a Honda dealership in State College, Pa. “I’ve been pushing dad for a long, long, long time to get involved in any way, any capacity that I could,” Graham said. “At that time there was just no real opportunities yet. We needed to wait for something else to come along. Luckily, this Honda store did (in May). I think the sales numbers have been tremendous in the first few months we’ve taken over.

“The dealership, obviously dad’s name is on it, but there are a lot of other guys involved…guys who kind of run the store on a day-to-day basis, have done us very proud. It’s cool to finally be involved a little bit. That’s sort of something all season I can spend a lot of time committed to learning that business because I certainly think when racing is all said and done, that’s my future.”

At TMS, Rahal became the 14th driver to win an Indy car race by leading only the last lap and the first to do it since Hinchcliffe at Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2013.

Rahal is among the nine drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2016 championship, which in reality is a two-man squabble between point-leader Pagenaud and Team Penske teammate Will Power, the 2014 series champion. Pagenaud leads Power by 28 points with only Sunday’s race here and the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Calif.) on Sept. 18 remaining on the schedule.

However, the driver who has led the championship with two races to go has failed to win the championship in six of the last nine seasons. Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2011 and Power in 2014 are the exceptions, giving momentary hope to Kanaan of Chip Ganassi Racing, Helio Castroneves of Team Penske, Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing, Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal, Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport.

Rahal placed seventh on Friday’s combined practice sheet after touring WGI’s repaved, 3.37-mile/11-turn natural terrain layout in his No. 15 RLR Honda at 145.126 mph on a day when all 22 entrants (unofficially) hammered Ryan Briscoe’s seven-year-old track-record qualifying speed of 137.657 mph. Dixon topped the chart at 146.391 mph in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The Verizon P1 Award will be determined during three rounds of knockout qualifying at 3 p.m. (EDT) Saturday.

Coverage of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

“Goes by in a blur. A lot of fun,” said Rahal, summing up his stint.  “Certainly now with the repave and everything else, it takes a lot of commitment at every corner. As far as road courses are concerned, at any other track it’s unparalleled _ Road America would be the only other place there are as high-commitment corners like this on a consistent basis.”

Rahal sits seventh in points, only three behind four-time/reigning series champion Dixon, heading into Sunday’s 60-lap/202.2-miler. Graham is brimming with confidence after exiting Texas with a new cowboy hat and the Foyt-Rutherford Trophy.

If you look at my career podium count, I finished second 15 times or something stupid. I’m always second,” said Rahal, seventh in points, but only three behind Dixon. ”It was nice last year to break through. I can tell you I certainly feel a lot less pressure probably for the rest of my career because I know we can compete, I know we can win. I know this team can. We don’t have to answer the question about that.

I tell you, it was nice to win there (TMS) to get it off our back a little bit for this season, but also just to win at Texas meant a lot because it’s been hard to tame that one for me. Obviously, I had my chance there in 2012. Our good friend Justin (Wilson) got it. It was nice to go back and just finally get that one checked off the list a little bit. It’s been a love/hate relationship with that racetrack. It was good.

Going into the rest of this year, only a couple races but they’re important, particularly where we are in points right now. It helps the team morale a lot, gives them a lot of a boost just to get that one.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 3 2016
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