This week, I got to talk to Graham Rahal, driver of the number 15 Midas/Big-O Tires Honda car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and fellow Buckeye fan. So far this year, he has had 2 top fives and 4 top tens with 1 lap led, making his career total 21 top fives, 48 top tens, and 117 laps led. He has gone to victory lane once in 2008 in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which made him the youngest race winner in the IndyCar Series. Currently, he is 17th in the points standing.
Isabelle Beecy: You've had some frustrating results so far this year. Has it been one factor or a combination of many?
Graham Rahal: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I just don’t think our baseline setup was competitive enough and we’ve been missing it a bit, and have been struggling to get it right on these short weekends, time-wise. It’s difficult to get it all figured out with such limited testing but we’re going to keep working and hopefully get better.
IB: What's it like driving for your dad's team, and what's been different between Rahal-Letterman Lanigan and Chip Ganassi Racing?
GR: It’s a great team here and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it and driving for dad. Certainly we want better results and we hope for better results but we’re going to keep working towards that. Ganassi is a solid team and they have always done a great job. I think they have proven this year, particularly at this point in time, that they are really quick. Everybody has to make a career decision at some point and I just felt it was best for me to join my dad’s team.
IB: How'd you get involved in working with the Columbus Zoo?
GR: Jack Hanna is my godfather and that was really the initial connection. A couple of friends of mine work at the zoo so I just felt it was important for me to help the zoo if I could.
IB: Have you seen any differences in thinking between Gerry Hughes and Neil Fife, your new engineer?
GR: There is definitely a difference in thinking. Our setups at Mid-Ohio were totally different than what we had done anywhere else. We weren’t as competitive as we wanted to be but it isn’t something that is going to change overnight. With Neil, we have to keep working. We’re starting from a spot that was completely fresh to us only a couple of weeks ago so we can’t have too high of hopes just yet.
IB: Which type of circuit do you like better, road/street courses or ovals?
GR: I would say that IndyCar is a good mix of everything so I can’t say that I have one that is a favorite.
IB: Do you have any other ambitions besides open wheel racing?
GR: I’m pretty ambitious overall in the business sense and racing overall. I would like to do more sports car races, I would like to try my hand at a road race in Nationwide one of these days and stuff like that. But Indy car racing has always been what I have loved and what my focus is on.
IB: How would you evaluate yourself as a driver?
GR: This year is hard to judge because it would be an easy thing for me to get down on myself and say that I’m not driving well or whatever but quite frankly I think that I am driving pretty well right now. I just think that we are lacking what I am trying to get out of the car and unfortunately that is hurting us a bit.
IB: Out of the remaining races, which do you see as your best opportunities for podiums?
GR: I think that either Baltimore or Houston will be a good opportunity for me. Sonoma has always been a challenge for me but I hope I can turn it around.
IB: At Long Beach and Detroit, your position at the checkered was much higher than your starting position. Are you getting more confident in passing on street courses?
GR: It’s not a confidence thing; we just have to work on it. I think we are making the cars better so that we can pass.
IB: In 2011 and 2012, you finished the season within the top 10 in points. You currently sit seventeenth. What's key to moving up?
GR: Good results, that’s what it’s all about. Unfortunately I don’t think we will make the top-10 in points but we’re going to keep working as hard as we can to get as close to that as we can.