Graham Rahal came away from last weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with a second-place finish in only his third start with his new — and yet long-established — team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
While the result was certainly a welcome one for him, it didn’t come as a shock.
“I’m not surprised,” Rahal says. “We’ve all worked extremely hard. Each and every guy and gal within this team has been hand-picked for a reason, and we all have that same desire and commitment to winning.
“I really wish Kimball weren’t in the way on that last restart because I felt that had I been in that position I can guarantee I would have been all over Sato into turn 1. My restarts have been where I made up all my positions, and I really wish that I’d had that chance.
“But it was definitely nice to get that for myself and for this team. It finally feels like all the hard work they’ve put in over the last couple of months is coming together.”
It doesn’t take long in a chat with the younger Rahal to determine why he’s thriving at his new team so quickly. Of the varying environments he’s encountered in the past, the teams that felt like family unquestionably suited him the best.
“At Ganassi, from my perspective, it wasn’t a family atmosphere versus, say, Newman/Haas or this team,” he shares. “What everybody within this organization loves is that my dad comes into the shop, he knows each and every guy by their first and last name, he talks to each of them directly.
“He’s not a guy that his controlling power is sitting in his office. You’ll see him out and about with the guys, taking them to dinner, having barbecues at the track, doing all of those sorts of things. That’s not something that I’ve seen in the past two years.”
That atmosphere comes not only from the direct father-son relationship, in Rahal’s opinion — it also comes from the goals that drive the organization.
“For Chip Ganassi, his racing team is his business,” Rahal points out. “He flat-out makes money going racing and has to.
“For my father, for David Letterman, and for Mike Lanigan, none of those guys are doing this for a living. They’re doing it all because they love it. I think that’s what makes this team special and different.
“It’s very Penske-esque in that way. Roger is in IndyCar racing because he loves it. He’s fielding AJ Allmendinger and some of those guys out of his pocket because he wants to, and I think that’s the way that our team operates, too. We’re in this because we love it, not because we’re trying to make money off of it.”
A particularly powerful change for Graham this season has been hearing his father’s voice over the radio in race mode.
“One of the things I’ve felt like the teams that I’ve been associated with over the years have struggled with a little bit has been strategy, and with my dad there’s absolutely zero concern about that,” Rahal says. “It’s been pretty peaceful to have him. It’s been really, really good to be together as one team.
“It was pretty special to see the tears in Dad’s eyes after Long Beach. For him, it means a lot because I’m sure there was so much weight lifted off his shoulders after getting our first podium.
“I’m sure he was worried. He didn’t ever want to be a limiting factor.”
How a former champion and Indianapolis 500 winner like Bobby Rahal could ever imagine himself to be a limiting factor in his son’s career is anyone’s guess — though perhaps it’s somewhere within that humility that the true secret lies to this team’s ever-increasing success.
Graham Rahal recently spoke to More Front Wing on these and other topics, including his thoughts on the new qualifying rules, the success being found by the next generation of IndyCar drivers, where he hopes to find victory circle in 2013, and much more. To hear the interview in its entirety, tune in to the More Front Wing podcast, which will be posted tomorrow morning. Find us on iTunes or right here at morefrontwing.com.