CHAMPCAR/CART: Rahal Behind The Wall

RAHAL BEHIND THE WALL FOR FIRST TIME IN 1999 In 1999, for the first time in its history, the competitive face of Team Rahal will not wear a moustache. Team owner Bobby Rahal takes the signature look and professional approach that garnered him...

RAHAL BEHIND THE WALL FOR FIRST TIME IN 1999

In 1999, for the first time in its history, the competitive face of Team Rahal will not wear a moustache.

Team owner Bobby Rahal takes the signature look and professional approach that garnered him three PPG Cup Championships as a driver to the other side of the pit wall. For 1999, he moves from the role of competitor to that of coach.

The lessons learned during a storied career as a driver and owner/driver now will be shared with the team's next generation, which comes in the form of fourth-year team driver Bryan Herta and newcomer Massimiliano "Max" Papis. CART Spring Training in February was the first time Rahal got a real feel for what it will be like this season. And if body language is any indication, he's just fine with the new arrangement.

"It's been kind of liberating," said Rahal with a smile. "Spring Training was the first time in about 20 years I've gone to a race track without a knot in my stomach. That's not to say I wasn't anxious about our performance. There's just a lot less urgency to things when you know you're not going to be strapping yourself into the car in an hour."

"Retired" or not, Rahal has been as active as ever in the ongoing development of his growing racing enterprise. He's pleased with the choices he's made and excited about the direction his three-year-old team has taken.

"We're in solid shape," Rahal said. "We have outstanding sponsor support, great relationships with the series' best manufacturers, and an enviable driver line-up. I think Max was a real steal and Bryan's got the chance to be a star in this series for a long time to come. I left the cockpit with a lot of confidence."

As one of the series' rising stars, a proven race winner and the team's senior driver, much is expected of the 28-year-old Herta. Though it is not something he sought or savors, the leadership role that comes with his new position in the team has been embraced by the Shell-sponsored driver.

"This is still Bobby's team," Herta is quick to point out. "His name's on the building. He still sets the tone. But it's up to me to provide some motivation and inspiration to the crew, to continue to deliver the goods on the track, and to take a bigger role away from the track. That's something I'm ready and able to do."

Papis, who succeeds Rahal at the wheel of the Miller Lite machine, has ambitions of his own. Having labored in the Toyota engine development program with praiseworthy effort but precious few notable results since arriving in the series in 1996, the enthusiastic Italian feels he has something to prove.

"I expect to run up front now and I expect to stay there," Papis said. "With Team Rahal, I have no excuses. We have the people and the package to succeed. I'm confident we will."

Behind the wheel or behind the wall, nothing would make Rahal happier.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta