Graham Rahal met with the media to discuss his goals and objectives for the year ahead, having signed to drive for Chip Ganassi's new, second IZOD IndyCar Series team.
This off-season has been pretty eventful for you. You signed with a new team, Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, went out in January and won the Rolex 24 with Memo Rojas, Joey Hand and Scott Pruett
(LEFT). How excited are you to get the chance to get behind the wheel of a Ganassi car?
Well, it feels like it's a long time coming now. For me, since announcing it I guess in early December, knowing about the deal far before then, it feels like it's been a long time. There's a lot of anticipating, anxiety growing to get out in the car, get running for the first time.
Charlie (Kimball) has had a couple of tests (BELOW). Our side of the team is up and running, so to speak. So I'm excited to get out in the car for the first time. I think it's been a really good start to the year for the whole Service Central group, the Ganassi group in general. So I'm looking forward to getting out there for the first time beginning of next week.
Can you talk a little bit about the Barber test next week. How important is it for you to go out there and have a good test knowing you're going to be back at that track for a race in a few weeks?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it's important for us to have a good test. But I think it's more important for us to have a good test because that's going to be our only test before the start of the season, and it will be our only one. We haven't done any running yet. Certainly before St. Petersburg we need to make sure all systems are go and the car's running well. Not only do you focus on that, but we're going to be back at Barber only a couple weeks after that.
It's important for us to make sure that we have a really successful test because we need to dot a lot of I's, cross a lot of T's, not only for the Barber race, but St. Pete, which is a week and a half afterward. There's a lot of stuff on our plate, a lot of stuff we need to get through. We've already looked over the test plan. It's going to be a busy couple of days for us. Actually, the testing time is fairly limited. It's only a few sets of tires a day. We can blow through those pretty quickly. So we need to be a little cautious.
You mentioned having a busy couple days at the test. I know Service Central has been keeping you busy the last few weeks with some appearances. Talk a little bit about Service Central, their involvement with you. You're in Gainesville for the NHRA race, but you've been doing other appearances, as well.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Absolutely. First, it started off, Service Central sponsors a TV show called Beyond the Battlefield. In essence what we did is we went to a lodge in Dublin, Ga., we took a couple of war veterans, one of which his convoy had been blown up in Iraq. He showed us a lot of videos, footage, stuff like that. Pretty intense what they'd gone through.
Both of the guys, Steve and Tracy, are fantastic. We had a lot of fun. We went quail hunting, did some things I'd never done before. I've never hunted before. I can tell you, it was a lot of fun. We certainly hope they have us back on more shows because it was really good.
One of the cool things is that Service Central is based in West Palm, and right there is the Honda Classic every year, which is kind of fitting that Honda is also the sponsor of our series. I was fortunate enough to play in the ProAm. It was a lot of fun. I played with Nick Price. For those of you who know anything about golf, you know who Nick Price is. He was just an awesome guy. We won the ProAm, so that was a lot of fun. He was a great guy, extremely talkative, extremely friendly, very open about information. I mean, we just had a really good time overall playing with him. Of course, winning was great. I have a nice trophy to show for it, so that was good fun.
Then we're here this weekend at the Gatornationals which I think is really the start of our season as a team, as a Service Central racing team. They sponsor this event. Certainly with Johnny, Shane, Don, overall they've got their plate full on the NHRA side. As we just talked about, St. Pete is not too far from here, only a couple of weeks away. So it's really kind of kicking it all off this weekend, so it's an important event for them.
You're working with Mitch Davis over on your side of the team. How has the dynamic been working with him? He's been around a while, has a lot of success in different places.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's great to have Mitch on board. When we first sat down, Mike Hull and I, to talk about people, bouncing names off of each other, Mitch was the first guy on both of our lists.
I worked with Mitch at Newman/Haas. I can tell you when he came into our team in 2008, he had an immediate effect on us. In fact, the first race weekend he was with us was Milwaukee, and we should have been on pole, but qualified second. Our previous best start before then was far worse than that, I can assure you. Mitch helped us in a big, big way. Obviously, he's got a past experience with Ganassi. He was there for a long time before. But I think when you look at where Mitch has been, even when he went to Dale Coyne, he elevated that team on a shoestring budget. He's a great guy.
I think what Mitch is so good for that a lot of people don't see is that his dedication and his desire to work and to work hard is unmatched in this paddock. I can promise anybody that. He's not afraid, even as a team manager, to get arms deep working on the cars, doing whatever is necessary to make sure that we're competitive and to make sure we're safe and have got good equipment. I think that's the key. That funnels down from him to everybody else in the organization. He's done a great job and continues to do so. I'm sure he'll keep us all excited and positive throughout the season.
When you look back to the instant success you had in the series, how long ago that seems, talk about the motivation you have within yourself to really make this the breakout season for you.
It has to be. I felt like 2009 was a breakout year for me. A lot of people have overlooked that. In 2009, it was very rare that we weren't in the top six in qualifying, very rare that we weren't right toward the front, right behind Ganassi and Penske during all the races.
When I look at that, I certainly feel like we've got a better chance and opportunity this year. We've got better equipment, better personnel. My engineer, Martin Pare, is the same guy who will be with me now. He was with me in '09, as well.
I think St. Pete '08 was a long time ago, no doubt about that. I don't think anybody wants to win in this organization as badly as I do. St. Pete has been a good place for me. I'm going to hope that we kick it off correctly. Got my first win there, my first pole there. I think it would be a great way to start this year, by us having a very competitive showing there. Certainly Barber is a great place and Long Beach has been a great place for me in the past.
I think we have to have a breakout season. I think we have to win races. We've got to be right up there with the Target cars and the Penske cars all year. If we're not, I think I'd be very disappointed, but also pretty surprised.