The magazine's feature interview in our October issue quizzes Bobby and Graham Rahal about their successes and frustrations in Indy cars this year...and their aims for the future. Here's an outtake:
Bobby Rahal is an Indy car racing icon, a three-time champion, with an Indy 500 to his name, and one of those rare cases of a great driver who also found major success as a team owner. His son Graham is approaching the end of his sixth season in Indy cars, yet is still only 23. Father and son have each been just a few seconds from Victory Lane this year. How frustrating is that? But first, we wanted to ask about the people who try to stop them getting there!
RACER: The theme of this issue is rivalries and I realized I was struggling to think of a serious rivalry for either of you.
BOBBY Really? Well, OK, our rivalry wasn't about running guys off the racetrack but I don't think there's any question that there's an Andretti vs Rahal rivalry, whether it's now Graham vs Marco, or me vs Michael or me vs Mario. I have the greatest respect for Mario and when I beat him, I really felt like I'd done something. People ask me what my greatest race was, and expect me to say “winning the 1986 Indy 500.” But in fact it was Meadowlands in '87. Mario had a Lola, I had a Lola, it was hotter than hell. We beat them in first pit stop and I stretched the lead out to 15 seconds, there was a yellow with about eight laps to go and I pulled away and won by eight seconds, I think. I felt like I'd moved the planets a bit because I had achieved that against Mario!
GRAHAM And that rivalry carries over! If there's one guy I want to beat, whether it's practice, qualifying or race, it's Marco. In the Star Mazda Series, our team goal before the start of the season was that all four of our guys had to be quicker than Marco in every session. We almost did it, too! And then Long Beach this year brought things to a head…..[sigh]. I don't even want to go into that again.
BOBBY In my workout room at home, I had Michael's picture on the wall, not because I hated him: I just recognized him as the guy to beat.
It's fair to say that you've both had fairly character-building seasons, with some fine moments, and then other moments of great promise that turned into major disappointments. How do you cope with that?
GRAHAM: The hardest thing is to keep your head up. Last year we started off slow and then got better with three top-threes in Brazil, Indy and Milwaukee but then went into a bad streak. This year we haven't collected the wins, podiums or even top fives that a lot of us thought we were capable of. But at the end of the day, I look at the positives, and most of the season we've been quick. St. Pete we ran in the top six, Barber we got a good result, Long Beach we ran pretty well, and so on. Racing is a cyclical sport and when things go right, they go really right. Look at Ryan [Hunter-Reay]. Dad has always said that so much of this sport is mental and that's true. Sometimes it's hard to keep your self-confidence, but at the same time, I believe one day it will be our turn, so that's motivation to keep going and get stronger.
BOBBY: What any driver has to understand is that it's not just up to them. They have a team around them and their performance is as important as the driver's. Our driver, Takuma Sato, is obviously very fast but almost throughout his career at the top levels of racing, he's been in environments where team spirit is less prevalent. I know what it's like racing in Europe: if you don't win you're a wanker, if you do, it's because of the team. It's a very tough environment. But I take great pride in considering who we've had in the past – Michel Jourdain, Buddy Rice, Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay – all drivers who most team owners had washed their hands of. We created an environment where we were their friends, we were there to help them, we were there to criticize them constructively – and they responded well.
After his second place at Edmonton, I said to Takuma, “Now you understand what it takes. You don't need to lead every lap; you just need to be in the hunt, and then as the race goes on, the team will help you maximize what you've got.” I take great pride in helping these drivers achieve their goals. It tries your patience at times but in the end, if that driver achieves his or her goals, it means you achieve your goal.
• Want to read more? You'll need RACER's October issue focusing on racing's Great Rivalries, on sale at fine bookstores. Or better yet, subscribe today at a special discount rate!
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