Ahead of the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas this weekend, the youngest race winner in IndyCar history talks about hitting the track.
By Chantal Rice, Photos courtesy of IndyCar
As the NTT IndyCar Series revs up to take on its inaugural race at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas track this weekend, ushering in a new era of motorsports merriment for race-loving Central Texans, IndyCar drivers, now one race into the season, are primed to put the pedal to the metal and deliver a legendary competition.
While the IndyCar drivers are anxious to prove to Austin why the series is this continent’s premier open-wheel racing championship, some may claim a slight advantage. For instance, Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (yes, that Letterman) is IndyCar’s youngest race winner ever, having secured that designation in 2008 at age 19 during his very first IndyCar season. And as the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champ Bobby Rahal, he obviously has racing in his blood.
During IndyCar’s spring training at the COTA in February—the first time most drivers had the chance to drive the track at speed—his No. 15 Honda performed well, with his best lap ranking him in eighth position, though his overall standing after that practice was 13th. And with his solid running in the first race of the season at St. Petersburg, Fla., where he finished 12th, it would be remiss to count out this six-time IndyCar race winner at the IndyCar Classicat the COTA.
Here, Graham Rahal shares his thoughts about his 2019 car, how he prepares for race day and the significance of IndyCar racing at the COTA for the first time.
ATX Man: What are your thoughts about IndyCar finally coming to Austin and racing at the COTA?
Graham Rahal: I am really excited to get to Austin and race there for the first time. It’s a tremendous city that is really growing, and the track is second to none when it comes to facilities and layout. I am very excited that IndyCar has finally struck a deal to bring us to COTA, and I hope the fans and everyone in Austin is looking forward to having us as well.
AM: Before you got a chance to drive the COTA track during spring training, how did you prepare to race on a track you’ve never raced before?
GR: Typically, we will get some time in the simulator to get acclimated. We are fortunate that we [got]some testing in at COTA before the race, though, so we all will be ready to rock and roll when it comes race-weekend time. I have also watched the F1 races there, but it’s very difficult to get a good feel for a track on TV. It’s always a ton better to do it yourself!
AM: How do you feel about your No. 15 car this season? Do you have any concerns? Have there been any tweaks to the package?
GR: No major tweaks from 2018, so I think we are bound for a great season. It was a huge transition to go from what we had in 2017 and before that to where we are now. The cars today are not only way better looking aesthetically, but also race a lot better. At this track, with the straights as long as they are, this car will really scream, and I think fans will love it. I know we will put on one heck of a race at COTA.
AM: With 12 Top 10 finishes and three Top 5 finishes in 2018, what do you need to do to punch into the win column this season?
GR: We just have to stay committed to the plan. We have won a lot before and we can again in the future. We didn’t have an ideal season in 2018, but I do know we are all focused heavily on being better in ’19, and I expect a lot from myself and our team!
AM: Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World. When preparing for race day, do you listen to any particular music as you’re gearing up?
GR: I must admit, I do not. I love music, though. But frankly, I am always so occupied before the races with sponsor appearances and all of those things that I just don’t get time to enjoy music before we go. Having said that, it is always great when training to have some nice music going. [It] keeps you amped up and ready to tackle the next race weekend!
Check back for more IndyCar coverage and driver Q&As leading up to and following the IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas March 22 through 24.