An Interview With: Graham Rahal
THE MODERATOR: It's exciting to get Graham Rahal to participate in this teleconference. Mr. Rahal, as you know, has just had an eventful beginning to 2008, started the wrong way hitting the wall in Homestead, but then his team prepared and got him ready for St. Pete in which he captured his first title and became the youngest driver in IndyCar history to win a race.
It's been an exciting last week for Graham, and he will appear tomorrow on the David Letterman Show, and then he'll be heading west to prep up for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Last year, as many of you recall, he actually qualified fifth here in Long Beach and finished eighth.
I know it's been an eventful last few days for you, Graham, and we appreciate you taking the time. And if I'm not mistaken, you are enjoying the sun in Columbus and on your way to a golf course?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, absolutely. It's a beautiful day here in Columbus. So I decided, you know, this is going to be my one last day of relaxation before I move off to Long Beach.
And then of course, you know, for us, pretty well right after Long Beach, you go to Kansas, and then we are in Indy for a month. So I figure this is my shot to play a little golf and have a little fun.
So, yeah, the weather is great here and just taking a little time to relax and as you said, it's been awfully busy the last couple of weeks, especially after the win. So it's nice to get a little time.
THE MODERATOR: Well, you're coming to beautiful weather here in Long Beach. It's going to be nice all week here, as well. Tell us a little bit about what's kind of gone on since you won the race and I'm sure you've been going a mile a minute. Tell us a little bit about the experience.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, well, you know, it's just been very busy with a lot of PR happening. You know, for me, I had already agreed to do an appearance at Bridgestone. So yesterday I was in Nashville, and then on Friday I had to go to the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing shop to make a new seat for the IRL. It's been busy; that's the only way to say it.
Every single day, it's been quite tough, so I don't even know how many interviews I've done, but they are so spread out through the day that it's even tough to have a little time to work out to be honest
So it's been busy but you know, as I said to many people, if this is the price you've got to pay for winning, I'm more than happy to take it.
THE MODERATOR: Well, tell us about your memories about the Toyota Grand Prix last year, and obviously similar to this year actually, you started out disappointed with the race in Las Vegas where you didn't do well, and then you bounced back and had a pretty decent Long Beach. Tell us a little bit about that race and your memories of Long Beach.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, you know, I've gone to Long Beach many, many times, and been very close friends with the owner of a bar there called Smooth's, and my father, he's one of my dad's best friends. As kids we used to go and spend a lot of time out there with John's kids, and so obviously there was a lot of time spent in Long Beach. So you always have fond memories being there.
And then of course in Atlantic, we had a pretty good run and even better in Champ Car. I think it was our first good qualifying session, obviously, because Las Vegas for us was disappointing, but you know, I look forward to going there and yet again, I think that it's a chance for us to win.
Obviously the team is on a bit of a high right now and we don't want to ever be overconfident, but I think that, you know, we really did feel that we were going to have an opportunity to win a championship this year in the Champ Car series. So now that it's one series, obviously it's a little bit tougher for us.
But Long Beach is a place where we feel we need to capitalize on our strengths, and of course, you know, it's a great circuit and looking forward to being part of it.
THE MODERATOR: I'm sure you're proud to come back, and some old guy named Rahal is going to be the grand marshal, but that guy, he never won this race; in fact, he finished second four times. So you definitely have to one-up the old man here, right?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, I think that it's -- and like I said, it's a great opportunity. It would be nice to go two-for-two, and especially, you know, since it is for points. I think that you know it is possible that we could leave there leading points.
So you know, of course for us, it's important to get a good finish, and there are a lot of other people that are going to be out there and they are going for glory and that's about all.
For us, we need to go get a good finish, and I think it's certainly possible.
Q: You alluded to it; it's a unique race because you have some of the people like you who are going for points for the IRL and others who are not. So how do you sort of approach the race knowing that a lot of the drivers have sort of different goals in mind?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, it's a good question, because as we know, I think they are saying there's going to be 20 cars or somewhere around there. I haven't seen exactly but you know, there are a lot of people that are coming here that are just going for points.
Now I don't know how many of that field is going to be IndyCar drivers, that are going for points, but you're going to have a lot of people that are there and they are going for glory. As we all know, they can end up in crashes and incidents quite often, but for us, we don't think there's any reason to take a risk.
You know, like I said, we are going for the points and we need to make sure we finish, because obviously especially for myself, not running at Homestead, already we are fighting a little bit of a challenge.
Now, of course, winning in St. Pete, we are already fourth in points, so it's quite a jump. But again, this week, we can't afford to have another DNF, and we need to keep going forward and keep getting as many points as we can. Because you know what, there is a chance we could win this championship, and as strange as it seemed initially, you know, I know it's early, but there are a lot of road course racing and a lot of ovals. And of course, Indy is a long race. There's a lot of opportunities for us to get some good points this season.
Q: I was talking to your dad on Sunday before he left to Japan and he was talking about how cool and calm and collected you are with everything that happened at that race in St. Petersburg. He said, "For His Age," he says, "I can't believe he's my son. He's like from a different planet; he's so cool, calm and collected." What do you think about that statement from your dad?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously I think it's pretty cool to have someone like that say that about me. It's one of those things that in this sport, it is so easy to get, you know, worked up and you see so many drivers that have short tempers that get out.
Obviously, you know, what he's referring to in the race is when Will Power hit me and spun me out and we came back to win. There's so many guys that wouldn't be able to deal with that kind of adversity, and I think something that he always told me as a kid was, you know, the most important thing is to stay calm and keep a level head. Because no matter what, no matter what position you're in in the race -- we fell back to 22 and got stuck with Oriol in traffic even though we had a quicker car, there's always a chance to win.
I just kept telling myself, saying, look, we are a long way -- when Will hit me, we were only like a third or maybe not quite a half of the way through the race and there was still an opportunity for us to go and win and that's exactly what we did.
The biggest thing is just to stay calm and it all -- I don't know why he said I'm from a different planet, but I can tell you, it comes directly from him, because he was always that way.
Q: What were your thoughts crossing the finish line?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, first off, I must admit that everybody had been talking about the history. But I've got to tell you that I didn't even remember the history part of it until Kathi [Lauterbach] said something to me, just as I had stopped the car and was getting ready to get out it. Didn't even cross my mind whatsoever.
I also should probably say that I really don't think it's even hit me yet that I've won, because you know, being as busy as I've been, it takes a long time to hit you and doesn't seem to have taken the effect -- of course when you win, it feels so good to win and to win in the fashion that we did, and everybody might say that we lucked into it because of strategy
But I think we proved in the end that no one there had the speed to contend with us. And it felt a lot like my Atlantic days when we were winning a lot of races, because it just felt so good to finally be in a car that was that good and that you could just -- you felt like -- you felt like you were the quickest car and that no one could keep up with you. You know, to have that feeling of power, it was just an awesome day.
Q: I know you're new to this series, but certainly not new to the sport, been around with it your dad for a long time; what kind of feeling do you kind of take into this weekend of this being the last Champ Car race? What do you think the mood is going to be, and what does it mean to you? And on top of that, what would it mean to you to win the last race of the CART/Champ Car era?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously I think it's going to be a little different than the past, but I think it's a great thing we are capping off such a fantastic history by going to Long Beach or ending it in Long Beach, because obviously Long Beach over the last, you know -- how long has Long Beach been around, 33 years or something? It's been around forever.
So I think you know, it's good that we are finishing it there, because that has been one of the most successful races in all of auto racing, and of course, you've got a huge fan support there, and you know, of course to win there would be so nice, because obviously since dad never won it, you know, it would be great to win there from that perspective.
But also just to say I've won a Champ Car race. You know, I think that it's one of those things -- I don't know if it would be another record of youngest-ever winner in a Champ Car event, but I think we finished that one off last weekend. It would just be -- it would be great to go and do it again. Of course, like I said, points in mind here, that's the maximum points, so of course it would be great for us
Continued in part 2