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IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Graham Rahal
April 6, 2008


THE MODERATOR: We are joined by race winner Graham Rahal. Just a couple notes here, at 19 years, 93 days, he becomes the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing history. Previous to Graham's win today, the record was held by Marco Andretti at 19 years and 167 days. He did that at Infineon back in 2006.
Graham is the fourth driver in IndyCar Series history to win in his first IndyCar Series start. Scott Dixon did that at Homestead back in 2003. Graham, if you would take us through your day.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, at the start, you know, we were all thinking it was going to be a nice dry race, and all of a sudden here comes a little weather. So that was pretty tough for us. Especially for myself, knowing -- I do really like driving in the rain, but I didn't know what to expect out of these cars.
But to be honest, I mean, it handled really well for a dry setup on a wet track. I thought that the car was really good and we managed to work our way up to third, I think. We were running strong, and then suddenly we got hit by Will Power and that set us back a little ways. We were running 18th.
We gambled a little bit on strategy. At the end we knew we had the pace so we threw on the slick tires. We knew the pace was there but we weren't sure the fuel was going to be there to make it to the end.
I think the led the second race from the end, or Hunter-Reay did and I got by him. It was just a matter of trying to save as much fuel as possible because we weren't sure how many laps there were going to be. I was still pulling away from him, saving good fuel, but then they were saying you need to slow down because you're going too fast and if you go that fast we're going to add another lap to the race, and that's going to be too difficult for us to manage.
So we're lucky that last yellow came out because then it was clear sailing from there. We knew that if we were quicker than Helio while saving fuel and if we could just go, it was going to be even quicker than that. It was nice to get the gap there at the end and it felt pretty to come by the start finish and get the win. Certainly the record wasn't in the back of my mind, but it's great to have it, and I'm just happy to be sitting here.

Q. I think you only had six laps of practice in that car at speed. Could you talk about how prepared you felt going into today's race and also what your thoughts were in that final restart with the two-time defending champion in your rear-view mirror?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, actually surprisingly I think we showed up this weekend and the cars were awesome, and so I think we set the tone right away. Then we went through a couple sessions where we were like 18th and 15th, and I think everybody was starting to question it a little bit. But I kept telling them, hey, we really do have a good car, don't worry about it. We're not getting all of it.
And the other problem was being in group one. I think we had a lot of people that were maybe a little inexperienced on road courses, so we had a lot of yellows, a lot of cautions during that group, so we barely got any time.
Obviously in qualifying we were happy to make it through. But at the end of the race there with Helio behind me, to be honest, it was one of those things that I knew that he's won a lot of races and he's been very successful, but I also knew we had the pace to beat him, so I just kept telling myself that and not to over-drive.
On the restart I went into Turn 1 and I certainly didn't brake any later, but just because the tires were probably a little cold, the pressures were a little low, it locked that right front, but everything seemed to work pretty well and we managed to pull away.
I really wasn't too worried about him. I think that I had a pretty good restart, so it wasn't all that -- although there was a piece of debris in the last corner because I had a heck of a jump on him, and so I come into the last corner and turn in, and there was like a piece of front wing sitting there, so I had to dodge that and that kind of got me off my rhythm a little. But overall it was a good start and I managed to pull away.

Q. I don't want to overplay the age thing, but at 19 years old you've probably got friends back in Columbus that are probably flipping burgers or in college looking for somebody to buy them beer. Here you are winning IndyCar races. How do you keep that in perspective and what do you tell your friends back home that are doing the regular 19-year-old thing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, to be honest, when I go home, I'm just another kid. I really don't talk about racing much when I'm around town. In New Albany where I live, it's nothing I really ever talk about.
I think in the past there have been -- I'm sure there are a lot of people when they walk around, especially kids in high school and stuff that have seen me around. But everybody has always been really respectful to me. It's just not a topic of conversation when I go home.
As hard as I work to be out here and winning races, you know, when I go home, I'm just another kid. That's something I always try to keep in mind. Trust me, if I weren't, I'd hear it from my mom and dad and everybody else. That's just the way it is.

Q. Graham, two-part question. First part, can you sort of put in perspective what this means to the team? Obviously they've had a pretty brutal last two months let's say, and I guess second question is if you've had a chance to talk to your dad and what he might have said.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, Dad was obviously thrilled, and trust me, it felt so good to come across the line. You know you want to win your first race, and unfortunately for me it didn't come in Champ Car last year, but we were so close so many times. I was sitting there in the car just thinking, please, just come to an end, please, everything just work out because last year at Mont-Tremblant we were in the same position in race very similar to this; it was raining and then dry and everything else. I mean, obviously Dad was thrilled that it came together, and for me it just felt so good to come across the line.
And for the guys, I think the biggest thing is this team, we don't have a backup car, we barely had enough parts to put it together this weekend, and we knew that if anything -- if I had hit the wall or anything had gone wrong this weekend, there was a good chance we weren't going to be racing here, too. So overall I think that the guys just feel so good, especially after Homestead, to be here and sitting in this position.
As I said before, I think that it feels even sweeter for me to know that the guys can celebrate tonight and know that we won a race together and put what happened last weekend out of their mind.

Q. An impossible question probably for you because I'm not sure I can answer it, either. But this is big for the team, it's big for IndyCar racing, but how do you think this is going to be received throughout the sports world, the ESPNs, the SportsCenters? This could be bigger -- with the focus of unification, this could be bigger than anything we realize.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it's important for it to be that way because I think we've struggled -- we all know we've struggled along as two series for so long now that finally we have one series and we really have something that has a lot of potential. I think for the fans here and especially the American fans, I think it's great to have an American driver do well. Certainly there's more of them here in the one series than we've had in the past.
Obviously I feel honored to be a part of it and to win my first race here so early. I think it's just -- it's exciting to be sitting where I am. As far as what's going to go on in the media over the next couple days, I don't know exactly. But all I know is I've got -- I drove my car down here so I've got a long drive home, and I'm sure there will be plenty of people calling me.

Q. Forgetting about the fact when you go home with your buddies you try to be regular Graham Rahal, but how does the win today help you with the girls back at home?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I've got to say, I don't think it does much because everybody around town knows that I've had the same girlfriend for three years. I don't think any of them are after me. Unfortunately I don't think this will change their minds.

Q. Coming into this weekend, having never driven an IRL race and with a new car, with very few parts, et cetera, et cetera, all the things that you've been talking about and we've been talking about for the last month, how surprised are you to be sitting there?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I'm surprised, trust me. Especially if you had asked me part of the way through this race, I would have said there's no way that we're going to be sitting here. We're running 18th or something. I knew we had the pace because when we were behind Oriol but caught him so easily but then we got stuck behind and couldn't go anywhere. So then we decided let's get some track position, and that's how the thing all unfolded.
I knew that we had good cars, but I will still say that as we sit right now, there are a lot of parts that a lot of the other teams use -- there's like the flat flaps on the front wing, all these parts that everybody else say don't make a big difference, but they're all using them so they obviously make a difference, that we don't have. Or we have them but haven't been able to test them so we don't know what to expect.
So there's a lot of elements still to go on our road course car and I think that says a lot about the team and the preparation that we didn't know what to expect and now we're sitting here.
Obviously Justin had a great weekend, as well. I don't know how it unfolded for him, but he was quick all weekend and both cars were, and it's great that it came to an end like this.

Q. Two parts. First of all, do you think you'll get an invitation to Letterman? And secondly, Helio and Tony both said maybe it's time to stop talking about us and them, that we're one series. Your thoughts on that.
GRAHAM RAHAL: As much as I'd like to say that we should all just stop saying that, I think it's going to linger for quite a while because a lot of people -- I think there are a lot of people that wanted to see how well the Champ Car drivers were going to do this weekend. But we're past our first road course. So we're all in the same series. We're all working together to make this what it used to be, and I think that's the way we need to approach this.
Obviously I think there are a lot of people that are happy that we won this weekend. I just think that we've shown that there are a lot of drivers coming over from Champ Car that are very quick, and maybe people underestimated in the past how good of a series that really was. So we're sitting here today as one series and we're still just as competitive as we ever were.
So yeah, I do think it has to end, but the problem is I think it's going to be around for quite a while, and that's just out of our control unfortunately. Yeah, I mean, that's just the way it works.

Q. There's the assumption that a 19-year-old wouldn't have a lot of pressure on him, but is that the case with you, considering your last name and your profession?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I can tell you it got a lot lighter just about an hour ago. You know, there's always pressure, and having any last name, whether it's Marco, myself, A.J., anybody that's had a successful father or grandfather, or both in some cases, there's always pressure to do well, and there's pressure to get your first win and see if you really can do it.
You know, for a long time there, a lot of people that kind of -- if you're not winning every weekend, a lot of people kind of doubt it. But certainly this just worked out perfectly. For myself to get my first win off my back, I think it feels pretty good.

Q. Kind of touching on the Letterman aspect thing, I imagine when you looked at this stretch of races you were probably looking forward to tomorrow, you finally get to go back home, but there's probably going to be a lot of media opportunities that you're going to be a part of. How are you going to feel about the celebrity part that's going to come with this achievement?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, we'll see how it comes. At this point, as you said, I'm not too worried about that aspect. I'm out here to do well every weekend. If the celebrity part comes along with it, then fine. But if it doesn't, it doesn't bother me.
I don't know about Dave. We'll see if he gives us a call. But I'm sure there are a lot of other things on his plate right now.

Q. There's been a lot of talk earlier on that ovals were not something that you were excited to get into. Is that true, or are you looking forward to starting running some ovals?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, ovals are fun. There's no lying that they're dangerous, but I do enjoy driving on them, and I enjoyed getting my first one out of the way. It's just unfortunate because I really wanted that first one to be Homestead and be able to move on from there. But unfortunately that wasn't the case, and it didn't happen.
But I'll be looking forward to going to Kansas and doing our best there, and we'll just move on from that point. I've got absolutely no problem with ovals, and a lot of these guys out here, the key to racing ovals is to respect one another, and I think most of these guys have that. When you're racing like that, I think it's a lot better.

Q. You had said in past comments about it may take a little while for the unifying and all to come together. Do you think that's going to be a little bit easier after what's going to happen at Long Beach two Sundays from now?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I don't think that really changes it much. I would say it's an advantage for the Champ Car teams because we're going back to a place that we all know very well, and we're going to be in cars that we're much more familiar with and a lot of us are more comfortable in because of the limited amount of time that we've had in this car.
I think it's quite the advantage because we don't know how big the field is going to be. I've heard numbers from 12 to 20, so I don't know what to believe. But I think if we can go there and get some good points, it all adds up, right? Obviously for us this weekend was a great way to start, and hopefully we can just build on it and go into Long Beach and go from there.
I think the road course is where we're going to have to really do well this year because until we can get some more development on the oval car, I don't know if we can compete with Ganassi or Penske or the AGR, the big teams. The reason is we've only had the thing a month, and they've had it, what, five years now.
I think we're fighting a bit of an uphill battle there, but we started well and we'll go to Long Beach, get some more points and keep battling on.

Q. You mentioned that Champ Car has been running exclusively road and street courses; IRL has just done it like the last four years. Even with the short advantage notice, knowing that you have a road course/street circuit like here in St. Petersburg, did you think that one of your drivers, including Justin, who's been well all week, could wind up winning this race?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Absolutely. I mean, I didn't know who it was going to be. I actually did think that one of us would win. We're getting back to the old us and them, right?
But I think you look at the lineup coming from Champ Car, the transitioning teams, and you've got drivers that are just -- they're so -- like Will Power has got to be one of the fastest drivers out there. I mean, the guy is insane on a single lap. I think you saw that in qualifying. I knew that there was going to be a way that we could all do well here, and I expect the same when we go to mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen and especially when we get to Edmonton and places that we're more familiar with.
I think for everybody that was transitioning, this gives them a lot of hope, because we know that we can be competitive here, and I think that's the biggest thing.

Q. Did Helio or Tony or any of the veteran drivers say anything to you after the race? And also, do you expect this will do something for your sponsor situation?
GRAHAM RAHAL: They just said, great job. Those are guys that -- actually it's funny because I was with Tony the other day at Homestead, and we were talking about how he was racing against my dad at Homestead and stuff, and it made him feel old. These are all the guys that I've watched for so long and admired for so long, and to be here racing against them, it's pretty cool. To hear them say, great job, that certainly feels nice. I mean, for us just to get the win, I think that says it all.
And on the sponsor side, I will say one thing. We don't have a sponsor right now, but because of the unification, there have been a lot of people interested. Nobody has signed, but I think there's certainly some good possibilities.

Q. How nice was it for you to be able to share this moment with your dad, not have him see the highlights on TV, but to walk down Pit Road and have him be there when you get out of the car?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It was pretty nice. I guess he was there for my first Atlantic one, but in the past we always said dad was the curse kind of, because every time he was there we didn't have a good result, and every time he wasn't there we would win. It felt pretty good to have them here, and I would have loved for my mom to be here and everything else.
But it's nice to not have to call him and let him know or to get a call from him. It's easier just to see him in person and give him a hug and go from there.

Q. You kind of answered the question that I was thinking about when you talked about Long Beach before, but just to extend that a little bit, if you had your choice, if there was a situation where you could go to either Japan or to Long Beach, which one would you go to?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, for us certainly it would be Long Beach, and the reason being is because we are so much more comfortable there. I mean, I think it would actually be -- maybe be even more of an advantage for us, but I thought it would be cool if we could take the IndyCars and run them there. But I understand from the standpoint that Forsythe or whoever else is going to run cars there, they're not going to buy an IndyCar to run. I think it would have been good for us as teams.
But I think that Long Beach is the -- it's more advantageous for us to go there, because we know -- as I said, right away, on the ovals we're not going to be incredibly competitive because we haven't had the car in a wind tunnel. I think we've had like a day or a half day. This team has got a lot of potential. You've seen what they can do in the past, and once we get the car and do some development we'll be right up there. But for the time being it's tough, so we might as well go where we think we have a shot at winning.
THE MODERATOR: Graham, thank you very much.

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