Big Bang Team Rahal owner/driver Bobby Rahal had it going in last year's U.S. 500. He had led 50 of the first 250 miles and was well on his way to a front-line finish when traffic intervened and ended his day with a bang. "It's tough to be ...
Team Rahal owner/driver Bobby Rahal had it going in last year's U.S. 500. He had led 50 of the first 250 miles and was well on his way to a front-line finish when traffic intervened and ended his day with a bang. "It's tough to be racing so hard and come up on guys who are just out there driving around. I was passing (Dennis Vitolo) high and he moved just enough - that was all she wrote. I knew it was going to be big. I hit a ton. It's a real testament to these cars that I was able to get out, walk away and be playing golf the next day. The car was definitely strong - strong enough to win. It was a lot of fun while it lasted."
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
Bobby Rahal characterizes his 17-year relationship with Michigan Speedway as "love/hate." "It's one of those places I always thank God when I walk out of," smiled the three-time series champ. "The place is a speedrome if ever there was one. It's one of those places you don't really look forward to going because it's so fast and the risk factor is so high. And yet when you get there and get going, the next thing you know you're caught up in it and you want to be the fastest."
Though he has never won a 500-mile race at Michigan Speedway, Bobby Rahal has tamed the track often at shorter distances. He won the 150-mile event here during his rookie season of 1982; a 200-miler from the pole in 1983; and a 250-mile race in his first CART series championship season - 1986. His best 500-mile result at Michigan was 2nd, which he managed first in 1988 and duplicated in 1990. Sunday will mark Rahal's 23rd and final Championship Car appearance at the track.
Team Rahal driver Bryan Herta will be among the handful of CART competitors to have run the new Handford wing prior to arriving at Michigan Speedway this week for the U.S. 500. Herta tested the new drag-inducing speedway airfoil at the California Speedway in June. "The new wing was very effective in slowing the car down. We were about 11 miles per hour slower on average with the Handford wing than with the standard speedway package. I was able to run nearly flat on both ends of the track, but not entirely. I ran some laps in traffic with Al (Unser Jr.) and each of us taking turns leading and following. The car remained pretty stable in traffic, but it was sliding a fair amount in the corners. I expect it will tougher to pass now than it's typically been on these tracks."
Among the dozens of drivers who have contacted the retiring Bobby Rahal recently about his soon-to-be-vacant seat have been seasoned professionals from nearly every racing discipline. The most interesting inquiry, though, came last week via e-mail to the Team Rahal web site. James Butcher, a 23-year-old Pizza Hut delivery driver from El Centro, California, thinks he's the right man for the job and has tossed his paper hat into the ring. "Nobody's heard of me, seen me race or knows my driving ability," he wrote. "Consider the element of surprise!" "Who knows," Rahal said. "I've seen some surveillance video on this kid. He may have what it takes!"
Driver Mike Borkowski and the Team Rahal Indy Lights operation will take to the Michigan high banks for the first time ever this weekend when practice opens Thursday for Saturday's Detroit News 100. "The strategy's pretty simple," said Team Manager Bill van de Sandt. "Go as fast as you can go. There's really very little to fiddle with from a set-up standpoint. Once you get the springs, ride height and low-drag settings, it's just tweaking. We did a lot of testing at Homestead and raced well there. It's not as fast as Michigan, but it's a place to start."