That seems to be Rahal's forte; he acclimatizes quickly and completely to new situations. He moved seamlessly from Champ Car to the IndyCar Series with Newman/Haas Racing in 2008, winning famously in St. Pete, his first race in the new series. He's adjusted to the bobs and weaves thrown at him since, including four teams in 12 races last season (and a solid seven top-10s in that span). He is his father's son, essentially. Bobby Rahal made a career out of making the big adjustments, winning three championships and 24 races in 17 years with five variations of race teams. They look alike, sound alike and race alike, none of which has been missed by the new boss.
“Graham seems to be very purpose-driven, which has provided the basis for his maturity,” says Mike Hull, Target Chip Ganassi Racing's managing director. “From a very young age, he studied what his dad was doing. He motivated himself when he was very young to be prepared to race in a big car – not just race, but race at the top level. He directed himself to be able to drive a big car, and that's a very difficult proposition from just becoming a professional race driver.
“Graham studied his dad. It's not that he's a quick study, but he's thoroughly prepared himself to drive at the top level of professional racing.”
That's why this move is so crucial to Rahal's path and Ganassi's timeline. It's not that Chip's two aces, Franchitti and Dixon are anywhere near the end of their career arcs, but they are at a point when the period of time after they depart is at least worthy of consideration. The major competition, Team Penske, has successfully expanded from two to three cars, and Rahal is at the level at which he deserves a quality ride. Positives all around, indeed.
“I'm not interested in pushing Dario or Scott out the door, but you need to keep an eye on who's coming in the door,” Ganassi says. “And what better way to do it than to have these guys on your team understanding your system, understanding the people, being able to work alongside Scott and Dario and getting first-hand knowledge as opposed to from afar or from outside the organization?”
To that point, Rahal fits. His demeanor is that of an accomplished, experienced racer, not of a kid who's been handed a bag of gold. “The mark of a really good driver is how he acts when he has a really bad day,” Hull explains. “Let's say he's had not the most successful qualifying day and now he's got to race the next day from a bad starting position. It's how he handles himself with the guys, the media and keeping the people around him up and ready to go. That demeanor makes the difference for them to repeat the effort in an even better way. I think Graham possesses that demeanor. It's all about how he's able to comprehend what needs to happen next. That's the mark of how we'll measure him. If he's able to cope mentally, then he can cope physically.”