Rahal's Performance at June Sprints Has Them All Talking ELKHART LAKE, Wis., June 30 - David, played by Graham Rahal of New Albany, Ohio, almost beat Goliath, played by 25 Formula Atlantic drivers and especially Chris Menninga of Des Moines,...
Rahal's Performance at June Sprints Has Them All Talking
ELKHART LAKE, Wis., June 30 - David, played by Graham Rahal of New Albany, Ohio, almost beat Goliath, played by 25 Formula Atlantic drivers and especially Chris Menninga of Des Moines, Iowa, last Sunday morning at the Kohler June Sprints at Road America here.
The 16-year-old Rahal was able to finish second in the Group 4 race in his pro Star Mazda car even though he was competing against drivers in much faster Formula Atlantic machines.
The performance was one of the highlights of the three-day SCCA Club Racing/Chicago Region national event that attracted over 440 racers competing in 23 different classes.
What's more, Rahal even led his race at one point in his Team Rahal/Andersen Walko Racing No. 12 that is sponsored by The Bobby Rahal Automotive Group, Bosch, Renier Construction and Norwalk Furniture.
Rahal qualified seventh in the 55-car field. When the green dropped he was off and flying, and he used traffic to his advantage to move into second.
After a full-course caution on lap 11 Rahal dodged inside of the eventual winner, Menninga, in turn one, but Menninga was able to use his faster Formula Atlantic Swift D14 to retake the lead a short time later and push Rahal back to second. Brian French of Sheboygan, Wis., who was fastest in first-day qualifying, started and finished third in another Formula Atlantic car, a Ralt RT 41.
The next-best-finishing Star Mazda drivers were two of Rahal's Andersen Walko Racing teammates. Jonathan Klein placed fifth and Mike Andersen was sixth.
"I was second in the first qualifying session but I ended up qualifying seventh for the race," Rahal explained. "I got a good start, and passed two guys in the first corner.
"I passed [three-time SCCA national Formula Continental champion] Mike Andersen going into turn two. I knew I was a little bit quicker than most people on cold tires and at least as quick as some of the other people, so I just kept trying.
"The two leaders had about a four-second gap on me, but I eventually caught French," Rahal continued. "I knew that my car was slower than theirs, but I was surprised how much quicker they were than I was through the Carousel and going down the straightaway.
"I was able to work through traffic better than the other two did though," he noted. "I passed French and just took off.
"I caught Menninga, but every time I got close enough to try to pass him, he'd pull away. The Atlantic car just had more grip.
"I just tried to stay with him, and then we got a yellow with three laps to go, and on the restart I passed him for first. I stayed ahead of him for the entire lap but he drove right around me on the straightaway; he just had more speed than I did. I just hung on behind him from that point on.
"I was happy to finish second because I shouldn't have been there in the first place," he noted. "It was definitely one of the hardest drives of my career. The track was wet and we were on slick tires hoping the track would dry out, and I just had to do my best to manage what I had."
Rahal noted that it was a little frustrating to be in a car that was out-matched in the speed department, but it was also very satisfying to do so well.
"It's frustrating, but you have to just out-drive them, really," he noted.
The superb performance also has to give Rahal added confidence when he returns to Road America's 4-mile road course for a pro Star Mazda race on Aug. 20.
"This race, the test day that we did here last Wednesday and all my other finishes this year gives me added confidence going into Road America, even though I'm a rookie," he said.
The testing session was especially helpful.
"We weren't the fastest in testing here, but at the end of the day we were fast," he noted. "We concentrated on our tire management, and by the end of the day we were running very consistent laps, even on old tires.
"Tire management is going to be especially critical in the Star Mazda race at Road America in August, and we feel we got some important work done in that area during the test here," he said.
Rahal has four other pro Star Mazda races on his schedule before he returns to Wisconsin for that show, however. The first of those four is this weekend at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain, Colo., which will be the young star's first race on an oval track.
Although he's a rookie in that series, he's currently second in the national point standings.
Rahal's Web site will debut soon at grahamrahal.com, while his sponsor's Web site is at bobbyrahal.com. His Star Mazda team's Web site is at andersenwalko.com. Other interesting information can be found at scca.com, starmazda.com and restartcommunications.com.